Hospice volunteering a humbling experience

Program offers training for caring for terminally ill
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Sutter Auburn Faith Hospice is hosting a program for people interested in learning how to become a hospice volunteer, or those who just wish to gain understanding about how to care and support a terminally ill loved one.

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 7-8 and Feb. 14-15

Where: Sutter Auburn Faith Hospice


Cost: $40


Marilyn Bell, a longtime hospice volunteer in the Auburn area, said she never forgets the patients she has served, such as the teen she helped reach his out-of-state family in his final days battling cancer.

Bell has worked with about 30 families as a hospice volunteer, and people often tell her they could never do what she does, but she sees it as, “We’re all here for each other, and we’re all on the same path.”

Sutter Auburn Faith Hospice is hosting a four-day hospice volunteer training program meeting from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 7-8 and Feb. 14-15. Volunteers are specially trained to care for terminally ill people and their families.

The training program is appropriate for those looking to become a hospice volunteer or those coping with the care and support of a terminally ill loved one, according to Sutter Health.

Bell became a hospice volunteer after she spent six months taking care of her mother in the time preceding her death in 1993. Currently, she’s working with two families, one an elderly married couple in Meadow Vista.

But she explained that hospice volunteering isn’t limited to the greater generation – something she’s reminded of every time she flies to Seattle, retracing the journey she took with a teen suffering from cancer in the mid 1990s.

One parent jailed, the other an addict, he had been living with peers in their 20s as his condition declined until his grandparents in Alaska called a hospice, which arranged Bell to fly with him to Seattle and then he continued on to Anchorage, Bell said.

“I got a letter in a few months thanking me that he did make it home and he passed away with them,” she said. “So every time I go past D3 concourse in Seattle, that’s David’s concourse. I say goodbye to him.”

Bell said the work will “fill your heart up.”

“(It’s) just such a heartfelt, wonderful thing to meet these people and hear their stories,” she said. “It just makes you very humble and very lucky to be welcomed into these homes and to be able to do this.”

Joan Bissing, Sutter Auburn Faith Hospice volunteer coordinator, said she has about 30 volunteers serving the Auburn area and is looking for more. The training program will include classes on topics such as bereavement, grief, the psychological aspects of hospice and chaplaincy or spirituality, Bissing said.

Those interested can get more information, or register, online at The program fee is $40.

Hands-on work with the patients is not allowed unless they’re comfortable in doing so, and typically volunteers provide a listening ear, do some light housework and possibly run an errand, Bissing said.

Bell has been visiting the home of Joy Parrish and Hal Rogers for the past four months, and Rogers daughter, Betsy Linton, is their primary caretaker. Linton said Bell’s volunteerism provides a great supplement to the hospice care they receive.

“I’ve got the support of Marilyn, who gives me the gift of four hours a week where I can do anything,” said Linton after returning from a jog she went on when Bell arrived at the house. “I can go for a run, I can go grocery shopping, go to the post office, I can go pull my hair out, whatever I need to do, because dad has Alzheimer’s and his wife has dementia.”

Parrish said she enjoys the time Bell spends with her and her husband.

“It’s wonderful because Betsy doesn’t like to leave us alone when she has to go out,” she said. “And so it’s wonderful having her come here and know that somebody’s here to take care of us.”

Linton said “it takes a special gift,” to provide the support Bell does, because sometimes her father can become depressed and angry.

“She still just has that kind presence and is genuinely caring,” Linton said.

Martha Irons has been volunteering for four years and is currently working with three hospice patients in Auburn.

“Interestingly I’ve had quite a few long term patients, greater than six months, so I’ve had the opportunity to develop some pretty powerful relationships with the patients and the caregivers, the family members,” Irons said. “So it’s been really positive.”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews