In 1989 and 1990, when Jules Hermes was in her twenties, she roamed throughout India, even traveling into the Himalayas to spend some time in Tibetan monasteries.
“That experience led me to question what’s really important in life,” Hermes said. “The answer that came to me was: Death.”
When Hermes moved to Atlanta in 2007, she started volunteering at the Hospice Atlanta Center, the largest inpatient hospice facility in Georgia.
“Perhaps this is what it’s all about — to be with those who are preparing to depart and to reassure them that they have done their best and are loved unconditionally,” the Brookhaven resident explained.
The hospice, located on Park Vista Drive in Brookhaven, has 36 beds and beautifully landscaped gardens.
“Walking through those doors felt like home to me,” Hermes recalled. “Every person I met, from the staff to the nurses, the certified nursing assistants to the cooks, it was like seeing old friends again. The love you feel knocks you off your feet, and there is a sense you are in the presence of grace itself.
“What the dying struggle with at the end of the day are unresolved relationships,” she said. “Somewhere there is a ‘sorry’ still waiting to be uttered or an ‘I love you’ needing to be delivered. On the other side, where the family waits, they must come to the understanding that their giving a loved one permission to leave is paramount.”
Hermes said she remembers one emaciated patient who had not seen her son in 17 years due to neglect and abuse within the family. It was apparent to the staff that the woman needed to see her son and ask him for forgiveness. So they wrote to him and called him.
“No one wants to see someone pass with regrets, fears and sorrow for things that happened in the past,” she said. “That young man made it to hospice. He told his mother he loved her and had already forgiven her. She wept tears of joy and died peacefully six hours after he left her side to return to Jamaica.”
Hospice volunteers serve in a variety of roles, depending on their preferences. Some may play the piano or sing. Others choose to massage aching bodies, provide legal assistance, serve tea or stuff envelopes. Other options include helping families and patients connect on a spiritual level or making calls to bereaved families. All are welcomed.
Speakers Bureau volunteers visit businesses, civic and community organizations and other groups to help teach people about hospice, advanced directives, living wills and other things.
Jill Welch of Brookhaven has been volunteering for approximately two years. Her assignment is at the front desk.
“You can make a really big impact when families are checking in their loved ones,” Welch said. “They’re scared and don’t understand the hospice environment. I help them get acclimated.”
Tim Toler of Brookhaven has been working with caregivers at the Brookhaven facility for 2 1/2 years. This category includes parents, relatives and friends.
“Having been through this experience myself with a parent, I know what a difference volunteers can make,” Toler said. Sometimes caregivers may need more attention than the patients. Volunteers strive to ease the loneliness and pain people are going through during this difficult time.
“Just being there and providing support and a friendly face can make all the difference in the world,” he said. “There is rarely a day that I don’t walk away with a life-altering, thought-provoking experience.”
For more information on volunteering at Hospice Atlanta Center, contact Ann Serrie at 404-869-3000.