Every two weeks, I will be profiling an extraordinary human being who lives in our community. If you know someone who is doing something interesting with their life, I want to hear about it. Send me an email at [email protected].
Hospice Huntsville boasts a team of more than 100 volunteers. That’s impressive, and no doubt a testament to the fact the people from this community value the organization and what it offers.
On March 5, 2012, after a long and painful journey, my mother entered Hospice Huntsville to live out her final days. My family and I knew nothing about the new facility other than it would be the best place for her to get the care she needed. From the very moment we stepped foot in the building, there was no more second guessing. We HAD made the best decision. We were greeted by friendly faces. We were treated with kindness, respect and courtesy. The level of care my mother received at the end of her life allowed her to die with dignity. For six days Hospice was literally our home away from home. It was because of that experience that my eyes were opened to how remarkable hospice truly is.
It’s volunteers like Pat Looker (featured as an extraordinary person back in April 2016) who go above and beyond not only for the organization as a whole but for those who are facing the end of their life. Pat’s understanding of death combined with her natural ability to be compassionate makes her good at what she does. Not everyone can handle being there for someone when they take their last breath.
There’s a common theme among these selfless people. They never want to be cast into the spotlight. I always tell them not to worry about tooting their own horn. I do that for them.
Maybe it’s because the month of March will never be like it was before my mother passed away that I felt compelled to focus this week’s extraordinary person profile on another hospice volunteer. Truth is, everyone has a story. And not one is the same as another. I’ve said this many times, this town is overflowing with unique and inspiring people. My list is still as long as it was the day I started. I was out shopping when I overheard a lady telling an acquaintance of hers that she just loved helping out at hospice. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued. I’m here to give credit where credit is due. Introducing another one of Huntsville’s finest….
Some people just do really nice things because they want to.
Angel Benn is one them. The sweet 70-year-old is a dedicated volunteer for Hospice Huntsville. It’s been a passion of hers for the last 14 years. At first she started doing home visits to those facing the end of their life and since Algonquin Grace Residential Hospice opened its doors six years ago Angel now does a bit of everything.
Her devotion to the facility didn’t stem from any life-changing personal experience. After Angel retired from a successful career in real estate, she simply decided it was time to give back to a community that was so good to her. Plus, she’s a real people person, a trait she’s carried for her entire life.
“I live alone and I certainly wouldn’t want to die alone. Nobody should. When I do a home visit I’ll sit by their bed, hold their hand… I always find people like to talk about their life.”
Staying true to her selfless nature, Angel is a bit reluctant to want to continue talking about what she does.
“It’s not just me,” she says, and then adds that there’s a whole slew of hospice volunteers who generously give their time to do exactly what she does. “When Algonquin Grace Hospice opened six years ago, I started doing front desk work. But then not too long after, I took another course in grief facilitation. That doesn’t mean I’m a grief councillor. It means that I can facilitate group sessions or one-on-one.”
One thing that Angel does know is that being in this particular line of volunteer work takes a certain type of person. You can’t harbour the sadness of watching someone die. It’s not something everybody has the emotional capacity for.
For me, I have strong faith and that carries me through the sadness. You need to be compassionate and you need to have empathy. I think all of the volunteers share the same goal, and that’s to be there for someone else.
Not only does Angel think the world of her fellow hospice volunteers but she speaks highly of the hospice staff as well. She says volunteers are always thanked for the work they do and “knowing that what you’re doing is appreciated you’ll do ten times as much.”
A lot of effort goes into making hospice a wonderful and loving home away from home. The stress of losing a family member can be emotionally exhausting and staff and volunteers are always working together to make sure families are as comfortable as possible. To date, there’s been two weddings at hospice and several big family dinners have been cooked to celebrate a loved one’s life.
On a scale of one to 10 of how important hospice is to the community, I would say 1,000. It’s about dying with dignity. That’s the best explanation I can give.
At 70, Angel isn’t showing signs of slowing down any time soon. The volunteer work she does is fulfilling her on a soul level. She calls it a privilege, gratifying and rewarding and her own way of giving back.
“I just love it. It’s my thing. I’ll be here until I’m too old to do anything else.”
According to Melissa Polischuk, fund development and public relations coordinator for Hospice Huntsville, volunteers are the heart of the organization. Last year, volunteers banked 13,640 hours of kindness and hard work. She commends their efforts and says they are valued in every aspect of what they do.
Speaking specifically about Angel, Melissa finds is difficult to not get emotional. She’s known her for years and Angel is a close friend.
“She’s a wonderful part of our organization because she’s involved in so many ways,” says Polischuk. “You just have to listen to her talk to people who are coming in as visitors. She’s a real champion of hospice and completely believes in all the work our organization does for the community.”
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