Palliative Care Volunteer: Community

About Clare

Clare enjoys her time and skills through community palliative care, Central Adelaide Palliative Care services. Visiting people in their homes, and joining them on activities, or a good chat over coffee, Clare is so valued in our community.

Q&A Interview:

Disclaimer: The views expressed are the opinions and thoughts of our interviewees, reflecting on their own experiences and views.

What inspired you to become a volunteer in palliative care?

When I finished work, I wanted to have some ongoing volunteering roles that both gave me joy and contributed positively to the community. I had supported my mother and brother at end of life, and both were able to die at home as they wished. As well, I had worked in palliative care. So I was strongly aligned with the overall model of care and philosophy. I also value being able to contribute to people having as good an end of life as they can, and being part of the conversation about dying being a part of life.

What do you think will encourage others to begin volunteering in palliative care?

I guess I knew about palliative care before becoming a volunteer having worked in this area, and many people don’t know about the services or the significant role that volunteers have in it. So hearing that it exists as a volunteering option would encourage some to do it. Also, more community exposure to what palliative care is and increased knowledge of end of life.

How do volunteers in palliative care enhance the overall experience for families?

My answer relates to community volunteering.

Families caring for someone at the end of their life in their home are amazing. The commitment to do this takes time, love, support, and determination! For them, volunteers can offer respite. So that they can get some shopping done, or catch up with some friends, or just have a couple of hours break.

For the palliative care patients, volunteers can provide social contact, going out for coffee/lunch, providing transport to appointments, doing the shopping and, as I said above, providing some ‘space’ for their carer.

For me, it is a rare chance to spend time with someone at a very significant time of their life. I have learnt so much about people’s lives, and how they have lived them. For quite a few people I am the only person that they have regular contact with who is not either a family member or a health care professional. It can be quite a special relationship, and I believe that it often ‘gives’ as much to me as I am able to ‘give’.

What support do you receive associated with your palliative care volunteering role?

The link with the Volunteer Coordinator is the key support, especially for community volunteering. They provide volunteers background about the person, and make sure that both of us have the information that we need. They then keep in touch with us – there is a buddy system in place for each visit, and the open invitation to debrief, talk about concerns or ask questions.

What would you like to see included into palliative care volunteering services?

Volunteering in palliative care is a role that is valued by the treating team but remains a little invisible when you’re out in the community. This is probably less the case for volunteers in the ward/hospice. Involving community volunteers into formal communication channels would really help because there may also be some situations where the volunteer will know how the person they are visiting could best be cared for.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming a volunteer in palliative care?

When I tell people that I am a palliative care volunteer, sometimes they say ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that. It must be so sad’. So, I talk about how it is many things, as well as sometimes sad. You meet and talk with amazing people and have the chance to help them and their families at a very important time. I do acknowledge that it can be sad and challenging, and that support with this is available.

I guess the final thing I would say is that it is not for everyone. It is important to be able to listen and ‘be with’ people when they are close to death. It can be intense, and it can be sad, and it is rewarding.