Danville Express

Column - September 14, 2007

Diablo Views: No life without death

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Maggie Metcalf stopped in her tracks at the poignant scene: A client in her 90s, freshly bathed and dressed, sat comfortably in her living room chair, singing hymns.

"It was one of the sweetest things," said Maggie. "She was happy as a clam."

Maggie is a volunteer with Hospice of the East Bay, which was founded in 1977 to help people cope with life-threatening illnesses. Hospice has social workers, chaplains and highly trained volunteers, and takes a team approach to help clients at the end of their lives.

"Most people are pretty happy, actually," Maggie said. "I suspect that your priorities change, you get rid of excess baggage. At least that's what most people do."

Hospice helps people accept death as a natural part of life, Maggie said, to look at it as a growth experience and to reach closure.

"I've been around someone in labor and my feeling is it's just as much work to go out of the world as to come in," Maggie said. "Our society has a real problem accepting death as part of life, but it's a natural part. We would not have life if we didn't have death."

Maggie, 54, moved to Danville from San Diego in 1983, and worked as a cardiac nurse until she decided to stay home with her children, who are now 21 and 19. About seven years ago, she acted on her desire to volunteer with Hospice.

At the beginning, the Hospice situation is new to everyone.

"Families can be pretty stressed out, but everything falls into place in the long run," Maggie said.

She visited one "wonderful, beautiful woman" for more than a year and would take her on rides.

"We had a lot of fun," Maggie recalled. "She said she was sliding into death with a glass of champagne in her hand."

Hospice volunteers have a large support system. One man jumped in alarm every time Maggie entered his room in a nursing home. After talking to a Hospice social worker, Maggie realized no one had put on his glasses and she was entering on his blind side. When she walked to him in a big circle, he was happy to see her.

A flower shop donates a big bouquet to Hospice once a week and they pull a name out of a hat. Maggie says she loves to deliver the flowers to someone in a nursing home - as she walks down the hall, residents ask about the types of blooms and reminisce about their own gardens.

Maggie also has worked in Anna's Program for women with breast cancer.

"These women tend to be pretty mobile but they may have limitations because of consequences of treatment," she said. "Oftentimes I will take them shopping or to appointments."

She also may help them sort out the papers they've been putting into a drawer and do other practical things, like cleaning out the refrigerator.

Hospice has a program for children, Care for Kids, and a bereavement program. Volunteers also work in its Bruns House, which has six private rooms.

The training for volunteers is extensive and continues with monthly meetings.

"There is a ton of stuff to read for background in addition to the presentations," said Maggie. "I still review my binder from time to time."

Maggie would stay busy without her Hospice work; she is co-vice president of the California Watercolor Association and is preparing for its 39th annual national exhibition at the Presidio Officer's Club. She also likes to garden and to read, and just finished the last Harry Potter book.

But she'd been wanting to volunteer with Hospice ever since she earned her degree in nursing.

"All those times I worked in the hospital, I was so busy. Now I have time to sit and talk, and hold a hand - it's wonderful stuff," she said.

Hospice of the East Bay is beginning another training session Sept. 26. Besides patient support volunteers such as Maggie to provide companionship and practical assistance, Hospice is looking for fluency in Spanish, licensed hair stylists, massage therapists, handymen, notaries and bereavement support volunteers. Call 887-5678 or e-mail volunteers@hospiceeastbay.org.

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.


There are no comments yet for this post

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: *

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields