Hospice volunteer has knack for end-of-life care 0
Bryan Davies Photo Personal Support Worker and Hospice volunteer Gertrude King in her treatment room at the Health and Wellness Centre in Creemore.
Gertrude King has the skills and experience to care for the terminally ill and those close to death.
Not only does she work for Hospice Georgian Triangle, she also spends time volunteering for the organization.
Sharon Brownrigg, client service director and acting executive director for Hospice Georgian Triangle, says at any given time there are more than 100 volunteers visiting patients at the hospital or in their homes, supporting the respite suites by caring for clients living with life-threatening illness, or supporting the grief programs.
She says many of the hospice's volunteer heroes shy away from the spotlight, including King.
Brownrigg points out King is very busy in her work and personal life, but has been volunteering with hospice for more than nine years.
King is a personal support worker in the respite suites, a guest lecturer, and a volunteer respite visitor.
"A gentle, humourous woman, Gertrude is that stable, vital presence many sick clients look forward to coming into their home to help not only with tasks, but to partake in some of the complementary therapies Gertrude offers," said Brownrigg.
King, who also works in reflexology and aromatherapy at a Creemore health and wellness centre, also brings those skills to her volunteer work.
Brownrigg says manicures, pedicures, and massages are very comforting when someone is approaching the end of their life.
"Living as fully as possible until the very end - that is the essence of Gertrude's life and teachings," said Brownrigg.
While looking for an outlet to practice her massage skills and keep them sharp, King began volunteering at Leisureworld Caregiving Centre in 1993.
"I started going and I loved it," said King, calling it a "no-pressure environment" where "residents are happy to see you."
In 1998, King was faced with the sudden death of her husband. She says you have to wait and see where your grief takes you, and after King broke down in church, her pastor pointed her toward a bereavement group with Hospice Georgian Triangle.
She says she found it wonderfully helpful and completely supportive. King says it was also inspiring.
"Not only could you survive, but you could thrive and make a meaningful contribution to society," she said, adding the group leader had also experienced the sudden death of a loved one.
A few years later, King got a PSW diploma, and found she was particularly good at end-of-life care.
"It really resonated for me," said King. "I'm honoured to be with someone when they are passing."
She says she is good at the practical aspects of the process, but also enjoys supporting the family.
When King visits people's homes, it doesn't include personal care as her job would, but instead sees King giving hand massages or doing someone's nails.
"They really enjoy it, they enjoy the company," she said, adding she gets an especially good response to massage therapy.
"It's a short period of time so the family can get a break," she said.
Hospice volunteers get 30 hours of training, and King leads a Caring for the Caregiver seminar as part of the training.
"If you don't care for yourself, you burn out really quickly," said King, noting caregivers should develop a way to deal with witnessing death.
"I like writing their (the person who's passed) name on a stone and throwing it in the river," she said, adding it's important for caregivers to be self-aware, recognize burn-out, and balance the needs of the patient with their own.
"It's about acknowledging that, 'hey, this has been hard, I think I need to do something for myself'," said King.
She says not everyone is comfortable with being with someone at the end of his or her life, but she is OK with it.
"There has to be an emotional comfort with dealing with death," said King.
"I'm sure of what I know and I'm sure of what I can do," she said, adding there are practical things she or the family can do to make dealing with death easier and make the death itself more dignified.
She says she gets more satisfaction from volunteering than from working.
"I enjoy being valued and appreciated," she said.