When Deb Fredrich first began to investigate hospice care, she just
wanted to understand it. Perhaps she was looking to heal a piece of herself and didn’t intend to get wrapped up in it. When she reached out to her local hospice care center, hoping to understand more about death and dying, they offered some educational opportunities which proved more consequential than she first imagined. Eventually, she was asked if she would consider volunteering in the home to work with patients and their families.
“At first I didn’t want to volunteer in hospice, because I knew I couldn’t keep people from dying,” Deb said. “Then I was told they wanted me to visit a baby.”
One leap of faith later, she found herself entering a stranger’s home to visit the child. Her trepidation in the unfamiliar situation melted away once the little one was in her arms. “This baby was two months old, and I began to visit the family every third day,” she said. “The child was dying of brain cancer, and I asked what I should do. They said, ‘just hold him.’ They just wanted him to be held. It just totally pulled me in. It was totally a God thing, otherwise I would have never volunteered.”
A former Monument Health Auxiliary president, Deb recently received her recognition pin for 10,000 volunteer hours. Along the way, Deb has picked up much more than mere acquaintances and incidental memories. Some of the bonds formed along the way have endured and new friends have become like family. Deb says her time with patients isn’t always somber, in fact it’s often quite the opposite.
“I’ve met so many good people. That’s the fun part. With hospice care, I’m not helping them die, I’m helping them live. There is a patient I have now, we just make each other laugh the entire time.”
Deb Fredrich was gifted this “circle of children” keepsake to symbolize all the lives she’s touched as an in-home hospice volunteer who often visits sick children.
She also has amassed more than 10,000 hours volunteering at Monument Health in various roles, but primarily as an in-home hospice worker. She is also a former president of the Volunteer Auxiliary. The ornamental pin she wears was a gift meant to represent all the lives she has touched in her volunteer career.
Often, in-home hospice patients have family by their side, who may receive a break when help arrives. Hospice care in the home is something many in the position desire, but it can be taxing on the family.
“It’s someone else to visit with, someone else to lend a hand. You’re there for the caretakers, too … the husband or the sibling, because they are there all day.”
Aside from providing a reprieve to those sitting vigil for the patient, Deb said a third party from outside the family can sometimes lift spirits or ease tension by precluding the stigmas around death and hospice.
“A lot of times when you’re dying, people don’t know what to do or what to say. People can get lonely. It’s not about fixing it; it’s about not shying away from it. They may want someone to cry with, or laugh with, but it’s just about empathy. My sister died at age 9 when she was home so in a way, I think that’s where it started, because at that time people were there for us. One patient’s husband asked me, ‘why do you do this?’ And I said, ‘well, somebody did it for me.’”
Although she has worked in the home and also at Monument Health’s Hospice House, Deb has volunteered in other areas.
“I started there and then I volunteered in one of the areas where we connect doctors with the families of patients who are in surgery. In that role, you do a lot of listening. You’re part of the support system. I did that for a few years and now I’m going to the gift shop once per week. The gift shop really is like a ministry in a way. People just want to talk. Everyone has a story and wants their story to be heard.”
Ten thousand hours is a long time to spend doing anything, but to spend it in service to others is a unique undertaking. Ten thousand hours is a long time to spend doing anything, but to spend it in service to others is a unique undertaking. It’s often said that 10,000 hours is the amount of time needed to master a skill. If so, Deb has truly mastered the art of compassion. She said her experience over the years has been ultimately uplifting and restorative.
Volunteers play a vital role in providing a caring experience for our patients and families. If you have a passion for helping others, consider becoming a volunteer. “I always tell people they are part of a legacy of volunteers,” said Konnie Sorenson, Volunteer Services Manager for Rapid City Hospital. “Even before Rapid City Hospital was formed, there was a precedent for community members coming together to aid those in need. We’ve got some awesome people who volunteer with us and keep that tradition alive.” For more information about volunteering or to learn how to get involved, visit monument.health/volunteer or call Volunteer Services at 605-755-8980.
“I’ll probably do this forever,” she said. “Gratitude is a big one. We’re grateful. My family has been so blessed and it’s nice to give back. I feel like we make a difference but mostly they make a difference in me. It has helped me to listen more attentively. Each situation is different, and I don’t want to have an agenda. I go in hoping to provide whatever they need. One family had a sick baby and the mother was also home with two preschoolers. I ended up being godmother to the family’s next child, and I first came into their home as a stranger. It’s not really me, it’s the Holy Spirit, it’s God working through me.”
Written by Bob Slocum
Photography by Bob Slocum