I'm not sure why I've always been fascinated by "the later years" - or why I think a lot about the fragility of life and how many people suffer the loss of loved ones.
Both my parents died at quite an early age, and I was too young and living too far away to be of much help.
But I have a favorite aunt, Aunt Marion, who is the backbone of our rather large family. She's a nurse, and she's the one we all turn to when someone has a health crisis. When there's a death, she's the one who comforts us and helps us grieve.
Aunt Marion is a grief counselor now, but 30 years ago she was director of nurses when the first Hospice in Rhode Island was established, and over the next 10 years she helped start two other hospices in Rhode Island and one in Connecticut.
I remember talking with Aunt Marion over the years about the wonderful ways Hospice helped people, so when I encountered Juneau's Hospice and Home Care two years ago at a booth in the Nugget Mall, I guess the idea of volunteering fell upon fertile ground.
Because of my family schedule and my temperament, I didn't think I'd make a very good in-home volunteer, but when folks at the hospice found out I could write and knew how to lay out a newsletter, they put me to work, and it's been a wonderfully rewarding experience.
In preparing newspaper articles, helping put together newsletters and talking at length with various staff members and volunteers, I've learned so much about what compassionate care, expertise and the effective marshaling of resources contribute to the quality of life for families in our community who are facing difficult times. I've seen how planning and using volunteers creatively can really stretch limited resources. And I've been bowled over to see how many people I'd known for years in their other roles in the community quietly find time to help their neighbors in an amazing variety of ways.
HHCJ special projects volunteers help with a myriad of activities that free staff to spend their time offering professional services. Some of the larger projects are working with data bases, labeling and mailing out newsletters, and organizing fundraising events. One large-scale project was organizing the HHCJ library.
About three years ago, volunteer Barbara Darnell began listing all the books and materials in the resource library, organizing them into categories, and writing a synopsis of each one. Then Beth Belflower, a retired librarian, set up a simple color-coded numbering system. Belflower scoured up labels, circulation cards, book pockets for the cards, and even a set of beautiful wooden card catalog drawers that had been surplused when Capital City Libraries switched to their current electronic catalog.
"I started out working on an old Apple IIe," Belflower said, "but after I had made hundreds of entries, the computer froze up on me. Fortunately, I was able to haul the whole thing down to a friend at KTOO, who managed to get the cards printed out for us."
Over the past year, Trish Cunningham-Young and I have attached labels and pockets, and helped file the cards, which list all 500-or-so books and other materials by author, title and subject.
The library - including Darnell's notebook describing nearly all the books - is now available for anyone in the community who would like to know more about dealing with bereavement, facing life-threatening illness, helping children through grief, and countless other topics.
I asked Belflower how she started volunteering at HHCJ.
"I became aware of Hospice when I was working with Sally Bowers for the American Cancer Society roughly 10 years ago," she said. "I started out answering the phone during team meetings, and I still occasionally do that, but the library is also an ongoing project."
Why does she volunteer?
"It keeps me out of trouble," she said.
Another special projects volunteer, Jackie Lorenson, cooks meals and delivers them to families in crisis.
"We all have different strengths," Lorenson said. "This is something I can do. When I get a call that a family needs a meal, maybe because a patient is severely ill or if there is a funeral coming up, I call the family to see if they have dietary restrictions, or if they have kids (because, you know, there are some things kids don't like). Then I put together a meal that includes hors d'oevres, a main dish, a salad,and a dessert. The family and I work out a time convenient for both of us, and then my husband delivers the meal to them."
Lorenson has done this for about three years.
"I became involved with Hospice grief counseling when I lost my son to an auto accident," she said. "This is a way I can give back and honor him in a way that I'm comfortable doing."
Lorenson also is a retiredlibrarian.
"Books were very, very helpful to me in dealing with my situation," she told me. "I'm glad the library is now organized. That's what libraries do: They lend things out in a way that also gets them back so they're ready for the next person. It would also be neat if people wanted to donate books they'd found helpful during their difficult times so the books could be passed on to someone else."
Community members can donate books, or check them out for two weeks on the honor system, at the HHCJ office, 419 6th Street. If you would like to volunteer for a special project, contact Sara Chambers, volunteer coordinator, at 463-6106, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Marge Osborn is a Hospice and Home Care of Juneau volunteer. Hospice and Home Care of Juneau is a program of Catholic Community Service. CCS serves all people regardless of their faith.