End of life can be a sensitive subject, but for the volunteers of the No One Dies Alone program, it is an honor to be with people when they die.
This year, the No One Dies Alone (NODA) program commemorates 10 years of sitting vigil for patients who are at the end of their life and do not have family or friends to be there during their final moments. The Providence Inland Northwest Foundation funded the program in 2013. Tracy Roundy, one of the NODA program coordinators and trainer with Providence’s clinical trials management system, has been with the NODA program since its inception.
“I wanted to join the program because I worked in nursing homes and felt very involved in that process,” Roundy said. “When family can't be there it is a way to still be there to support a person who is actively dying.”
Roundy joins 22 additional active volunteers with the program. Once a patient meets the criteria for the NODA program, volunteers sign up for two-hour shifts to sit vigil with the patient. The goal is to ensure someone is present when the patient ends their journey on earth – but that’s not always the case.
Connie Christilaw, a volunteer and coordinator with the program, said that sometimes patients wait for a moment when they are alone to die in peace. Connie keeps records of all the times she’s served as a companion to a patient. Her nickname is “Diva of Death” because she forms relationships with people at the end of their lives. She has served as a nurse in various capacities, including in the military, emergency department, radiology department, forensic psychiatry and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Before retiring, she was a deputy coroner in Spokane.
“This is such an honor to be with someone and try to help their passing be peaceful,” Connie said.
Once a vigil is initiated, volunteers enter the room and introduce themselves to the patient even if the patient is non-responsive. Volunteers are trained to recognize when the patient needs comfort. They provide support such as providing cool towels, changing the room’s environment with lights and sounds, sponging their mouths, holding their hand, and calling the care team when needed.
Sometimes they do even more.
Tina Blewett, a volunteer and coordinator with the program and full-time biologist, remembers one patient vividly. She had initiated a vigil of a young patient and recognized cards in the room from friends. The cards were filled with messages for the patient saying, “get well soon” and “We can’t wait for you to come home” Tina asked for help to contact the friends to let them know the patient was actively dying so they could visit and help with the end-of-life process.
“Over the course of a of the vigil, one-by-one friends showed up to sit with the patient,” Tina recalled. “By the third day or fourth day, the friends had completely taken over.”
Tina said at one point the patient was conscious and able to talk to the nurses. The patient told the nurse they had never felt so loved as they did in those moments with friends and the care team.
“That's miraculous to me,” Tina said. “I feel like that's why we're here. That is what we provide as a team.”
People interested in volunteering with the program can learn more online or by calling Providence Volunteer Services at 509-474-3166. No experience is necessary. Volunteers must be 18 or older and complete a training through Providence.
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