“Everyone has a story and we’re privileged to be part of that story for a short time.”
Comox Valley Hospice Society volunteer Sharon Spartz finds great reward in supporting individuals nearing death and their families.
A long time believer in the importance of grief support, when retirement brought a move to the Comox Valley, Sharon had the time and opportunity to get involved more fully.
Several times a week, she volunteers with Hospice clients, listening, sharing in conversation or experiences they find rewarding, or toward the end, simply sitting vigil – ensuring a person isn’t alone and that anything they or their family needs is available.
“Our first priority is the client – we’re supporting the individual to live their version of their best life to the end of their life,” Sharon says.
“Sometimes they want to talk, or tell stories about their families. Often they’re concerned about the people they’re leaving behind, rather than the fact that they’re leaving. It’s what they need in the moment – often just the opportunity to talk about anything other than medical issues for those 10 minutes.”
Over the years, many have asked Sharon why she would choose to put herself in a position involving death and dying.
“It’s not depressing,” she says. “In fact, there’s so much joy. We’ve celebrated grandkids and 71st wedding anniversaries – it’s all about giving people the opportunities to do what they want to do.”
Sharon also appreciates what she gains from each experience.
“It’s very rewarding. It enriches my life and I look at things way differently than I used to,” she says. “When COVID hit and we couldn’t be with clients, I realized how important it is to me.”
Reflecting on society’s reluctance to talk about death, despite it being one of the few things we all experience, Sharon turns the conversation into a “death positive” one – it’s about having the comfort to talk about death and about our needs as we move through that final chapter.
For those interested in volunteering with Comox Valley Hospice clients and families, wanting to help is the most important quality, Sharon says. “A lot of what I do is sitting vigil. If family members are sitting with someone very near death, I’ll sit by that person and let their loved ones eat, take a walk or have a shower, knowing the person isn’t alone.”
If a volunteer notices that the person is in pain or uncomfortable, they can take their concern to the nursing staff or a CVHS counsellor for immediate help. Other times, if they wish, the volunteer will sit with families in the room – simply to be a reassuring presence or to answer questions about what’s happening and let them know everything is progressing normally. “Often it’s the family we’re supporting more,” Sharon says.
Training for volunteers is extensive and the Comox Valley Hospice team provides a wealth of support and resources, she adds. Numerous other volunteer opportunities are also available.
“It’s a very humbling experience. I never dreamt it would change me so profoundly,” Sharon says.