Wife-husband duo Kit and Ken are enjoying their retirement thanks to a new weekly tradition. As hospice volunteers for HopeHealth, the couple spends every Thursday at a nursing home in Attleboro, Massachusetts. They bring comfort, peace and laughter to residents they’ve come to love.
“I always thought volunteering in hospice would be too difficult, but it’s so much more rewarding than I expected,” Kim says.
(Editor note: The couple volunteered prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they look forward to resuming their routine when it’s safe to do so!)
Kit and Ken share a friendly, confident, warm demeanor. Years ago, they met while participating in an offsite work training—after unknowingly sharing an employer for 20 years—and realized they were very much alike.
“We both love humor, we’re both very into family values, and we’re both compassionate,” Kit explains.
“We’re always learning from hospice providers—their approach, their attitude—it’s something we want to emulate.”
Given the sensitivity of end-of-life care, Kim is surprised they gave HopeHealth a shot, but after a rave review from a friend in their community, they pursued the volunteer training program.
There was something else that pushed Kit and Ken towards HopeHealth. Both of their mothers were on hospice services several years ago in different states.
“I was very impressed then, and I am now, with the professionalism of the nurses and caretakers,” Ken says. “I’m in awe of how they care for people like they are their own parents. We’re always learning from them—their approach, their attitude—it’s something we want to emulate.”
Kit is forever grateful for the support she received from hospice staff while her mother was on hospice.
“The hospice team really helped my family deal with my mother’s death by coaching us through the whole process, making a beautiful environment for her, and following up with us after she passed away,” Kit says.
“We pretend to ballroom dance around her room, and she loves it.”
Now, as hospice volunteers, Kit and Ken help others in times of need.
Marie* is a resident of the nursing home and a native-French speaker. Kit tracked down some of Marie’s favorite French music to play for her each week.
“[Ken and I] pretend to ballroom dance around her room and she loves it,” Kit says, smiling. “Or I pretend to kiss Ken with one of her stuffed bears while we’re drinking tea and we really get her laughing.”
The couple has a weekly standing cribbage game with Joe,* another resident, who isn’t shy to share that he hasn’t lost once in the year they’ve played together.
Kit and Ken also bring homemade chocolate chip cookies to residents who don’t have family visiting, and they comfortingly hold the hands of residents who are no longer verbal.
Not every patient is easy to connect with, so Kit and Ken might contact a family member to find out the best way to relate to their loved one. Since learning that one resident was very fond of a pet iguana that she used to have in her country, “we know to brighten her spirits by asking about the iguana,” Kit says.
Sometimes it takes a few visits before a resident will open up. “Each person is an individual, so we have to adapt to who we’re working with, what they’re going through, and their personality,” Ken says.
A 99-year-old woman named Phyllis* said she was ready to meet her husband in heaven and did not care to see new people at this point in her life. Undeterred, Kit compassionately got Phyllis to open up about her childhood garden and reveal her favorite flower, the peony.
Sharing that memory brought a smile to Phyllis’s face, and Kit and Ken later brought her peonies on their visits. “Just like that, we were able to bring some positivity to her life,” Kim says.
“All of these people have lived incredible lives and they should leave with dignity and love.”
Reflecting on their volunteer experience, Kim looks at Ken with pride. “He’s taken to this work naturally, and the residents love him, and it’s revealed a whole new side of him that I really love.”
Ken gives Kim the bulk of the credit. “It’s just nice to have a team effort and bounce off of each other during this continual learning process.”
Kim is happy they chose to volunteer with hospice. “All of these people have lived incredible lives and they should leave with dignity and love. That’s really what it’s all about right? To feel loved,” she says.
*Names changed to protect patient privacy.