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The reason I do this: How a hospice volunteer finds his purpose

One of life’s best surprises is discovering what a difference we can each make in the world. Just ask HopeHealth volunteer Phil Cotsalas.

For seven years as a hospice volunteer, Phil has offered comfort to patients at the end of life in Southeastern Massachusetts. He’s been a rock for caregivers from Wrentham to Rehoboth; Attleboro to Norton and beyond.

Back when he started, he wasn’t sure if — or how — a guy like him could really help. He just knew he wanted to try.

Here’s what happened.

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What led you to hospice volunteering in Massachusetts?

Phil: We’ve lived here in Attleboro for 40 years. Before I retired, I was focused on raising our family, paying the bills, saving money. Once I got to the point of retirement, I thought, “Is that it?” I have hobbies, but I want to feel like I could make a contribution to my community. Believe me, I can enjoy being by myself for hours and hours, but I also like getting out there and giving back.

My mom had passed away the year prior, in a hospice facility in Florida. I was so impressed with the care. I admired it. I’m one of five kids, and we were all like, “This is the way to end life.” The hospice people could not have been more giving or wonderful to my family.

When I saw something in the local paper about hospice volunteers, I thought: Maybe I can do this.

> Read: Checklist: What to look for in a hospice provider

How did you feel before your first hospice volunteer visit?

I’d been through a pretty lengthy, organized training to become a volunteer, and really enjoyed it. But then I started doubting myself.

I thought, this person is dying, what can I really do to help? If I were ready to pass, what kind of person would I want next to me? Would I really want some guy like me?

Then I thought, I’m just gonna be myself, and we’ll make the best of it.

You’ve done just that — for seven years and counting. Can you describe some of the moments you’ve shared?

I’ve met some really awesome patients and families. Some I’ve formed pretty good friendships with. We play card games or checkers, talk about sports or music, all kinds of things. I’ve heard tremendous life stories. There were also times when someone just wanted me to hold their hand or put a hand on their shoulder.

One patient, Bob, we had a lot of similar interests, but he was extremely quiet. After our fourth visit, I pulled his wife aside and said, “I don’t know if I’m helping, I’m doing all the talking here.” She said, “Phil, he loves it. He loves just soaking it in. He really appreciates you coming.”

The caregivers are so appreciative too. I come in for an hour or two and they can get some shopping done or go to an appointment or just go to a café with friends and chitchat. I can tell it’s really good for them.

Read: “What a privilege”: Reflections of a hospice nurse

What about you — what has hospice volunteering meant to you?

Honestly, I feel like I do this for selfish reasons. Because I really feel good knowing I’m helping someone. It adds purpose to my life after retirement.

I’m closer to the end of the run than the beginning. I think about: When we leave this great life that we have, what’s it all about? I want to feel like there’s a purpose for me.

That’s really the reason I do this.


Want to be a beacon of hope in your Massachusetts community? Join HopeHealth’s hospice volunteer team!

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