Ready and eager to hear their stories
Hospice volunteer receives special recognition
By Rachel Segura
Journal Staff Writer
It is a gift to truly and genuinely care for your fellow man; a rare quality in a world sometimes filled with indifference.
Hospice of Montezuma seeks individuals with such gifts to comfort and care for those on the last leg of life’s journey.
Mary Keller is a full-time volunteer with hospice. She visits with one patient once a week for five hours and on occasion she visits with two. She doesn’t work, so she devotes her time to others.
“They just want someone to hear their stories and they know when someone isn’t interested. They know if they are forced to be there,” she said.
The volunteers at hospice are of great importance to patients, staff and families. Ronda Lancaster, is the Volunteer and Fundraising Coordinator for hospice. She worked with Keller during her training and assigned her patients, as she does with all hospice volunteers.
“I think many of the volunteers forget how many hours they actually put in,” Lancaster said. “Mary has sometimes worked 15 hours in one week. She’s very compassionate and very quickly becomes a part of their family.”
Keller listens to her patients, interacts with them and understands their needs. She is a companion for them to the end. This year, hospice awarded Keller with the Volunteer of the Year award.
“I was at a volunteer appreciation picnic and I had no idea any award was going to be given.”
Keller heard the speaker say what a wonderful person this volunteer was. That this individual would rearrange their schedule or drop her plans to fit her patients’ needs.
“And I thought, wow, that’s really nice of that person, then they said my name,” she said with a laugh.
Keller began her volunteer tenure after working with medical records for 10 years. She and her husband lived in Florence, Colo., when she began bringing her standard poodle into nursing homes. She found that patients enjoyed speaking with her and visiting with the dog.
When they moved to Cortez two years ago, Keller could not bring her dog into nursing homes without specific qualifications, so she took her services to hospice.
Keller made volunteering a top priority in her life. She is inspired by all of her patients and has been lucky to receive such wonderful, positive people. Keller is an eclectic person and is eager to learn about her patients’ interests. This made it easy for her to fit in with her patients and their families.
It is not uncommon for patients to open up to a volunteer before they would a staff member or caregiver. The comfort and companionship of volunteers provide the patient and their family members a more relaxed atmosphere.
“It’s hard to have a good life when it consists of your chair, bed and maybe the dining room table,” Keller said. “They’ve all experienced great loss and yet, they have the most amazing attitudes.”
Even though the majority of hospice patients have full-time caregivers, Keller is part of respite care. This allows caregivers to take a break from managing their loved ones, to take time for themselves or run errands.
“Several patients have had falls when their caregiver slips out for a minute,” Keller said. “I help give them the peace of mind that someone is there, that their loved one is safe and taken care of.”
She also helps caregivers when they have an issue or need someone to talk to. One particular time, Keller sat with a caregiver for half an hour and listened to the stress and worry she carried.
“I have a small amount of experience with that,” Keller said. “My parents are both infirm and very old. I’ve lightened my load (at hospice) so that I can act as a caregiver for them when I need to.”
Keller recalls spending time with so many special people. All of her memories are bright and cheerful.
A woman, almost blind and bound to her recliner had a very interesting life and career. Current events were her hook and Keller would read and discuss the newspaper with her for hours. Many of her patients still lived in the homes they raised their children in. They always spoke of their children she said. Family is important to all of them.
“One woman,” she reminisced, “told me how her family left the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma and settled here. That’s amazing to me. I see them get restless and incoherent towards the end, but when I first meet them, they are so cognizant. They share wonderful stories with me.”
She spoke happily of her past experiences. All these individuals had such incredible memories to share. She hasn’t had one person she didn’t learn something from.
“You have to enjoy and appreciate older people.” It certainly takes a special kind of individual to do this work and Keller has filled the role effortlessly.