The topic of death is still a social taboo. Although death has been around as long as life, many people find it difficult to give space to the topic. Hospice work starts right there. Because beside the ambulatory (i.e. only short-time, not place-bound) or stationary company and support of humans in their last stage of life, the Hospice work also thematizes the consultation regarding support, care and medical supply of terminally ill and dying people and their relatives. Additionally, public relations work to raise awareness of death and dying in society is an important part of the hospice’s work. In order to relieve specialists in hospice work, about 120,000 volunteers are active in this area according to the German Hospiz und PalliativVerband.
To figure out whether a voluntary work or commitment for terminally ill and dying people is also a suitable option for you, we have exchanged experiences with Sepp Raischl (professional director and board member of the Christophorus Hospiz e.V.) and Gabriele Groh-Leu (department manager voluntary work of the IFB-Stiftung), to be able to pass on helpful knowledge to you.
1. Be reflected and in harmony with yourself
For a commitment in the hospice, a confrontation with one’s own mortality and dying as well as a stable, resilient psyche are the essential basics.
Sepp Raischl, professional director of the Christophorus Hospiz e.V., describes it as follows: “Volunteers must be open and willing to reflect on themselves and their personal experiences. Those who have not processed their own issues cannot accompany others in the most difficult situations”*. Furthermore, the willingness to deal with new things is also essential in order to be able to offer one’s counterpart absolute freedom, tolerance as well as cultural and spiritual openness.
2. Convey the feeling that nobody is alone
“Social interaction is important in all the different phases of human life but becomes even more acute at the end of life. The feeling of being alone and at the mercy of others, of not being understood and of possibly feeling to be ‘only a burden’ is particularly depressing when saying goodbye to life”*, says Sepp Raischl.
Although voluntary hospice care “only” includes activities such as listening, reading aloud, small purchases such as getting the daily newspaper, making conversations, accompanying people on walks or visits to the doctor and providing support in everyday matters, your mere presence gives the affected persons the feeling that they are not alone. “The voluntary, unpaid attention of an open-minded fellow human being is particularly helpful and irreplaceable. Volunteers convey, so to speak, the principle ‘You are important – also and especially in this situation!’ and ‘You are important for those who live on!'”*
This is why long-term commitment, dependability and reliability in working with terminally ill and dying people is all the more important.
3. Be present and empathic
If you want to help in the hospice, you should not only have a certain amount of time flexibility but also be prepared to take yourself back in order to be able to engage with empathy towards your counterpart. Preferably, you have about 4 hours available between Monday and Friday, since on weekends the relatives can often be there themselves.
“Terminally ill and/or dying people and their relatives expect above all a mindful presence, empathy, helpfulness, the ability to listen and to be open. The relief of the (nursing) relatives is usually extremely important”*, explains Sepp Raischl. Volunteers should be able to bear the situation and be able to hold out humor to the severity of the last phase of life every now and then.
Gabriele Groh-Leu, department manager voluntary work of the IFB-Stiftung, sums it up very well. “Volunteers bring ‘life’ into the hospice and can individually get involved with the seriously ill people – as individual as they are and thus give them something very precious: time and their ear.”*
4. Use support offers
Voluntary work in the hospice can change one’s own life. It is a time for reflection on the essential: Habitus, status symbols and power no longer play a role.
This makes it a very valuable and formative time for volunteers, but also creates stressful and challenging situations. An integration into a competent organisation of an ambulant hospice service is therefore very helpful and relieving as protection and support. So don’t hesitate to seek support if you have the impression that a situation is overwhelming or could overwhelm you.
“The Volunteers are prepared very thoroughly and according to a curriculum that is uniform throughout Germany. They receive free and regular further training and are integrated into an ongoing supervision group with regular meetings. The most important link, however, is a responsible head of operations or coordination specialist who prepares and accompanies the assignments”*, explains Sepp Raischl.
5. Note formal requirements
In addition to intensive training as a hospice attendant, there are other formal aspects you should consider. Firstly, you must be at least 18 years old and have an enhanced certificate record certificate. Don’t worry, as a volunteer you can easily apply for it free of charge. You can find all information here.
Are you interested in volunteering for terminally ill and dying people?
On vostel.de you find various projects how you can get involved in the hospice work.
More tips and information on volunteering you will find in our volunteer guide or through our social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). Here we will keep you up to date on everything important in the world of volunteering! So feel free to drop in there as well! 🙂
Your team from vostel.de
*translated from German