It Doesn’t Take Much to Make a Difference

Jo first encountered Pathways when her husband of 20 years, Henry, fell ill in 1995. At the time their sons were 14 and 18. “Henry was admitted to hospice right away,” Jo remembers, “and the staff helped not just Henry but our whole family. I was very impressed by the staff and knew immediately that I wanted to be a hospice volunteer.”

Volunteering was not new to Jo. As a flight attendant for TWA in the late 1960’s, she moved to San Francisco. “Very soon after the move, I began going to a nursing home to play the piano. Soon a friend who played the violin joined me. I’ve always had an interest in the elderly.” In mid-1996, Jo completed the Pathways volunteer training and began to visit patients.

Over the years, Jo has made an indelible mark on Pathways, visiting patients, helping out in the office, and even playing the piano and singing at remembrance events for family members. Her work with patients and families anchors her volunteering. “People are so interesting. Everyone has a story. Everyone is worthy. As volunteers we can listen to the stories that the families have heard a thousand times. Telling the stories gives meaning to their lives.”

“I always tell new volunteers that it doesn’t take much to make a difference. People are so vulnerable at this time in their lives, and just by listening we can help.” She finds that families often feel comfortable talking to volunteers about things they may not tell the nurse or social worker.

If it feels right, Jo uses music in her work with patients, playing the piano and singing. “I sing hymns a lot because people remember them, even people with Alzheimers. Once I was at a patient’s home and he was dressing. I saw a piano in the living room and there was sheet music for folk songs on the stand. I began to play. Moments later, I heard a beautiful voice, deep and resonant, begin to sing. For the next half hour, the patient sang these folk songs as I accompanied him.” When he died three days later, his wife asked Jo to play the piano at their home after the memorial service. Now many years later, Jo and his wife still keep in touch.

Hospice volunteering is special work. “It’s so uplifting to know you can do something to help. With so little, you can do so much.” But balance is also important for Jo – balance of the mental, spiritual, physical, and social. “I take care of myself and sleep well. I know that after an intense time with a family I will have the time to rest. I really appreciate that Pathways puts no pressure on me. There are times when I have to pull back and I’m never made to feel as though I should do more. And somehow when I have a patient who needs more time, miraculously I have more time.”

Although Jo worked until her husband’s illness, she quit work after his death. “I wanted to be home with my sons.” Her sons now grown, Jo leads an active life singing in two choirs, playing tennis, hiking, gardening, traveling, and enjoying time with her family. In addition to maintaining a balanced life, Jo believes that ‘All you need is enough.’ I don’t need an excess of material possessions. I’ve been very lucky in my life. By making adjustments, I have been able to manage and do the things that are important to me.”

When Jo made her estate plans, she wanted to include Pathways. “It’s been very meaningful for me to be involved with Pathways. I give my heart to Pathways and I want people to know we exist. It’s important to me to make sure that Pathways is able to continue into the future beyond my life.” By including Pathways in her will, Jo is ensuring that Pathways will continue to make a difference in the lives of families for years to come.