Providing companionship at the end of life
It started with a simple question from a dying patient to his nurse. “Will you stay with me?” The nurse promised to return after she tended to her other patients. An hour and a half later, she checked in on him again, only to find he passed away while she was caring for her other charges. He died alone without friends or family.
It started with a simple question from a dying patient to his nurse. "Will you stay with me?"
The nurse promised to return after she tended to her other patients. An hour and a half later, she checked in on him again, only to find he passed away while she was caring for her other charges. He died alone without friends or family.
It's a scene that has played out countless times at hospitals across the United States. Caregivers genuinely want to provide the peace and comfort we all deserve in our final moments, but they don't have the time it truly takes to stay with their patients until the very end.
Most of the time, we aren't alone. Friends or family are with us in our moment of greatest need.
But for those of us with few friends and no family, having someone by our side when we pass is no guarantee, and that's a problem. Every one of us deserves to have someone by our side as we face the great unknown. Yet asking overworked and stressed caregivers to take the time to ensure that their patients are given that last bit of respect is clearly not the answer. It's not that they don't want to -- they simply don't have the time.
That same nurse whose patient died while she was caring for others saw a need that had to be fixed. So, in 2001 she created the No One Dies Alone program. Rather than have nurses forced to decide between staying with a dying patient or caring for her other patients in need of help, the program relies on volunteers from other departments to sit with patients in their final moments.
Today the No One Dies Alone program at St. Mary Hospital has 20 volunteers, or Comfort Companions, who have spent over a thousand hours with dying patients since May of 2009.
The No One Dies Alone program benefits not only the patient, but also the patient's loved ones or caregivers. A story that stays in my mind was a patient whose husband was afraid to be alone when his wife passed. They were both in their mid-80s and deeply in love. He was there to comfort his wife, but there was no one to comfort him. I sat with him for two days as he shared their 65-year love story, their friendship, their marriage and how much he was going to miss her. In those two days, I was able to help him go through the pre-grieving process before she passed.
Comfort companions do everything from offer spiritual support to physical comfort to help document family history for survivors. Since its inception in 2001, I believe it has revolutionized end of life care.
Angelo DeLorenzo is a Board Certified Chaplain through the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and Trainer of Volunteers for the No One Dies Alone program at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, Pa.
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