LifePath Hospice volunteer Esther Zeigler, 77, still remembers the enthusiastic welcome she got from her first patient when she arrived.
"She would be so happy to see me and just clap her hands, "Zeigler said. "She did me more good than I did her."
Now having served with hospice for over a year she concludes that giving others the sense of well-being has its own far-reaching benefits.
Through the many requests of their patients, volunteers have learned to take stock of the beauty of living in the moment. For some patients it's the wish to be outside and feel the thrill of sunshine on their feet after being shut away from the golden warmth.
Zeigler believes that helping others is vital.
"It fills you. It completes our existence to reach out to others."
Local hospice volunteers from Plant City often receive thanks for their service, but during this Thanksgiving weekend, they're expressing gratitude for the opportunity they have to help others.
Although the job of assisting patients during their final days could be seen as sad, they say it is a task that helps them embrace their own lives more fully.
Zeigler shares her volunteering enthusiasm with her friend Beatrice Crowell, 75. It was Crowell, a 15-year veteran of hospice volunteering, who persuaded her to join. Crowell, a retired Hillsborough County teacher, says volunteering or helping others is as natural to her as breathing. It's something that her own mother modeled throughout her life, serving as president of the Bryant-Phillip American Legion Auxiliary #215 in Jasper for 40 years.
"I love volunteering for hospice because I am lifted up by my service to others," Crowell said. "It's exhilarating to sit under a tree or push someone down the street in a wheelchair who has not been out in the fresh air for a while."
In her many years of experience she has held a deep appreciation for patients who are lonely and long to have someone to talk to and listen to them. She is also sensitive to the needs of patients who can no longer speak but can listen and see.
Sometimes caring might involve moving a patient closer to a window to be able to see children getting on a school bus. Or it may involve tuning into a special radio station a patient is yearning to hear.
Crowell remembers purchasing a radio for one patient.
"When I came into his room he showed his happiness by blinking his eyes and laughing loudly and I would rub his head and kiss him."
Donald Carnley, 46, has been volunteering for hospice for over two years. As an ordained minister he is able to provide spiritual comfort when it is requested, but he doesn't think volunteers need any special titles to help.
"You don't have to be a doctor or a physicist," Carnley said. "You just have to care."
Through his volunteering he has learned how quickly life can change when he cares for younger patients. He has become philosophical, knowing life doesn't just begin with a birth date and end with a dying date.
"It's about all the living that's compacted in that dash in between those two years," Carnley said.
Talking about the things that are important to his patients and listening about their families are vital aspects to his work, because he came sometimes connect to their experiences.
Though some volunteers seem to administer their care almost innately, all candidates undergo approximately 20 hours of training and a background check.
Debbie Hoopes, a hospice volunteer coordinator, says the training is useful and can be applied to everyday living.
Perhaps the greatest take-away is simply that today is a gift.
Belinda Kramer can be reached at [email protected]