Hospital ministry is in need of volunteers

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

To be with a person when they draw their last breath is a humbling experience, Mike Reilly, a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Assumption, said.

And Reilly knows.

He believes no one should be alone when that last breath — called by Mark Twain a person’s most valuable possession — is taken.

He is a volunteer with a hospital ministry called No One Dies Alone (NODA). As a result, Reilly has been at the side of many people who’ve transi-tioned from this life to the next.

“To be there in the last moments of a person’s life, to be there when they stop breathing and their heart stops, it’s a moving experience,” he said in an interview last week.

The ministry is made up of volunteers who sit with a person who does not have any family or friends during the last hours of their life.

The program recently expanded from Jewish Hospital to Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital and is in need of more volunteers.

When it has been determined that an individual is 24 to 72 hours from passing away, a nurse dials the NODA number.

“When I get that page, I call the nurse and find out the circumstances,” he said.

From there Reilly contacts volunteers and coordinates times for them to sit with the
dying person.

“It offers a lot of dignity to the process of passing,” Reilly noted.

He said that people are present and celebrating when a person is born in this world and that it’s important for a person to not be alone when they leave this world.

People can participate in one of two ways in the NODA ministry. A volunteer can either be a “vigil coordinator,” like Reilly, or a “compassionate companion.”

A coordinator carries a beeper and schedules volunteers once they receive a call from a nurse.

A companion sits with the person who is actively dying in one to four hour increments. These trained volunteers can read to the patient, play music, hold the patient’s hand or simply be present.

Reilly said it is up to the volunteer to determine how much they want to be involved. He said the ministry only averages about one patient every three months.

“We lose volunteers because of inactivity. People want to give. But carrying a beeper around for a couple days a month is a big thing,” he said.

Reilly said he develops a bond with the person dying.

“I’ll wonder if they were a mother or a father, what they may have done in their life. I talk to them about my family. I’ll be interested in them after I leave,” he said. “For me it’s a humbling experience.”

Reilly said he hopes the number of volunteers increases as more people hear about the program. Additionally, he said he would like to see the program spread to more hospitals as word gets out.

Janet Boice, a chaplain at Sts. Mary & Elizabeth and the hospital’s NODA coordinator, said there is certainly a need for the ministry.

“There are a lot of elderly with families in California or the East Coast that just can’t get to them to be with them in time,” she said in a phone interview last week.

Boice said the need hit home for her last year when there was a patient who was actively dying on Christmas Eve.

“I stayed as long as I could. Then nurses took turns throughout the night,” she said.

But the patient died early the next morning alone. That’s something Boice doesn’t want to see happen again.

“I’ve been a chaplain for 15 years. I’ve been with many people as they pass away. You can feel the presence of God; it’s just such a powerful time. To bring that presence of comfort and peace as they are passing away” is important, she said.

To inquire about the No One Dies Alone ministry, contact the volunteer office at Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital at 361-6744.

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