Ever Think of Volunteering? Arlene's Story
Written by Arlene Kramps, Guest Blogger
I am a firm believer that love never fails! I have witnessed it countless times over the last 15 years, as I volunteered in our small community hospital in Valleyview, Alberta.
I grew up in Valleyview, got married and moved to Crooked Creek only 20 miles away. I live on a farm with my husband of 48 years. We were blessed with 3 children, who have all left the nest and started their own journey in life. I found myself with lots of time to pursue a new chapter in life. Little did I know the impact it would have on myself and others.
My Dad was admitted to Long Term Care in Valleyview in 2006, he was in early stages of dementia, so the transition went well. This was the first time I had ever been in a Long Term Care facility. I was visiting Dad weekly, and loved to pitch in and help, whether it was bingo, puzzles, games, patio time, birthday celebrations, etc. I soon developed a love for the residents and recognized a real need for them to have interaction to the outside world, they became like family to me.
My Dad passed away in spring of 2011. Because of my love for the residents I continued my weekly visits year round. The staff loved having volunteers as they could see how spending quality time was so beneficial for the wellbeing of the residents. The nurses were amazing, but didn’t have the time for one on one. I encountered a new nurse on one visit, she asked who I came to visit. I told her I visited residents who had no family or friends and were lonely, sick or dying. The nurse informed me, I had to sign up as an official volunteer and have an ID tag, the nurse didn’t realize I had already been doing this for 10 years on my own. It was the best thing that happened, I was now able to visit in ACUTE Care as well!
What I would like to share, is the visible impact my visits had with the patients and residents, they were able to trust me and felt safe sharing their life struggles, failures, regrets, successes, and victories. I would just sit and listen, lots tears at times and I recognized it was the healing they needed. I believe many shared with me because I had no family connection, I was not critical or judgmental, I felt empathy for them. Some rooms I visited I would be asked to stay longer; I was careful not to have favorites or take the place of family.
One day an 86-year-old blind man asked me what I looked like, I told him I was blonde, blue-eyed, and beautiful. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was a seasoned, gray haired, pleasantly plump lady. Whenever I visited his room and he heard my voice, he would say, 'oh it’s the beautiful lady' and we would have a good chuckle.
A 95-year-old gentleman asked me to hold his hand every visit, he would just sit and smile, no words had to be spoken, often he would doze off, I would quietly let go and on to the next room. I think he felt he mattered and that was important to me. I had no shortage of stories and life experiences to share, I could relate to everything from raising kids, farming, animals, chores, gardening, hunting, fishing, running machinery, trapping and sports. I enjoy telling a story and the residents love hearing them and sharing theirs as well.
Helping take residents for a short bus trip is a fun time, off to Crooked Creek for ice cream, or the local Farmers Market. Another highlight was pushing a resident in his wheelchair two blocks, downhill from the Farmer`s Market so he could do his banking, it was definitely a challenge pushing him back up. Helping move the residents outside of Long-Term Care to watch the rodeo parade go by. It’s a pleasure for me to see their faces, eyes light up, smiles of happiness.
I could write a book, there are so many things that a volunteer has the privilege of taking part in to increase the quality of life in the elderly, but I`m not a writer. I'm writing this not to receive a pat on the back, I want to encourage everyone’s thinking to becoming a volunteer, to let them know how rewarding it can be. It`s not the amount of years or hours that`s important, it`s the number of lives touched by your decision to volunteer. I know many patients and residents feel lonely and isolated while dealing with health issues. The only thing we as volunteers can give is our time.
Due to COVID vaccination mandates I`m no longer able to volunteer at the Hospital. I am 70 and I have many more years of volunteering ahead. I also know when one door closes another one opens. The most heart wrenching experience I had was the final day of volunteering, I had been trying to prepare the residents that I would not be there for them because of new rules. On that day the tables were full, just before supper, one lady from across the room saw me getting my coat and shouted “we will miss you.” Then all the residents started waving goodbye. The issue I had, this was not their usual wave, they kept waving till I was out of sight. I felt like I was abandoning them, I know some will understand and some will not. Love never fails, it`s a matter of the heart.