For the past eight weeks, I've been involved in a free training that is probably one of the best I've ever attended; and, as a retired superintendent from the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, I've been to many. I've been meeting with a wonderful group of people, young and old, to learn more about being a hospice volunteer in a training provided free by the VNA & Hospice of Southwestern Vermont Health Care.

While I didn't know exactly what to expect, I was very excited to sign up for this training. Both my parents died due to illnesses within two weeks time more than 25 years ago. It was not an easy period in my life, but my family and I had assistance from hospice during and after both deaths. The level of empathy and support and the caring attitude that the hospice team provided to us left an endearing, strong impression on me. I knew even then that some day I would like to find out more about helping others by being involved in hospice care.

Over the years, I've come to the realization that death is truly a natural part of life.

For the past eight weeks, I've been involved in a free training that is probably one of the best I've ever attended; and, as a retired superintendent from the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, I've been to many. I've been meeting with a wonderful group of people, young and old, to learn more about being a hospice volunteer in a training provided free by the VNA & Hospice of Southwestern Vermont Health Care.

For the past eight weeks, I've been involved in a free training that is probably one of the best I've ever attended; and, as a retired superintendent from the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, I've been to many. I've been meeting with a wonderful group of people, young and old, to learn more about being a hospice volunteer in a training provided free by the VNA & Hospice of Southwestern Vermont Health Care.

Yet, there was so much more I learned about my personal feelings and beliefs about the end-of-life process when I took this class. Our group met for about three hours each week. Sounds like a long time, but I can tell you that the information we covered was so compelling, I was always surprised when it was the end of class.

The time went fast, the people in my group (including ministers, students, stay-at-home moms, and nurses) were wonderful and I learned more than I ever expected about myself.

I know many people may think such a training and being a hospice volunteer is a little morbid and frightening. All of us in the class wondered, "What do I say to a patient the first time I meet him?" "How do I act around hospice patients?" Luckily, someone who is already a hospice volunteer came to every class to share first-hand experiences. That and the fact that you don't have to volunteer just because you take the class made me feel more relaxed.

I also found out that being a hospice volunteer could include running errands and providing respite as well as spending time with patients and their families. You're also not alone as a hospice volunteer. Instead, you're a member of a hospice care team that includes physicians, nurses, aides, social workers, and a chaplain.

Your opinion is respected and seen as valuable input regarding the patient's care plan.

As a result of the training, I now feel really prepared to volunteer with hospice patients and their families. The information was compelling, modern, and covered many topics related to death and dying: the emotional and physical changes someone goes through, understanding grief, and how to just be and trust yourself when you're with a hospice patient. I really do feel like this course made a positive impression on me on so many levels.

I'm glad that now that I'm retired I had the chance to take this hospice volunteer training. I truly feel that the benefit I received from taking it was so much greater than the time I had to put in. I believe that the experience will ultimately give me much more than I will ever be able to give.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. In the past, I might not have thought much about it. 

Having taken the training and now contemplating my role as a future hospice volunteer, I feel a sense of pride for the work hospice volunteers and care teams do. I now feel prepared to help others with the knowledge I've gained about the end-of-life experience and about myself. So, if you're considering the training, try it. Like me, you may find it to offer personal insight as well as knowledge you can use to help others.

George Carpenter is a retired superintendent from the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union and a hospice volunteer with the VNA & Hospice of SVHC. Visit SVMC on our Facebook page and learn more about what it means to be a hospice volunteer. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public matters and public policy as it affects health care.