Like most people, Betty Shaffer had never thought about what it would be like to die. Then she had a health crisis.
Coming face to face with her own mortality unearthed in Shaffer a passion to help others facing end-of-life issues. For the past 18 years, Shaffer has volunteered for the Visiting Nurses hospice program, giving more than 500 hours of care and compassion to patients and their families as they walk through their final days together.
Shaffer’s long-term dedication to the hospice program inspired Sarah Rooney, hospice volunteer coordinator with Visiting Nurses, to nominate her for the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s 2010 Wallace Galluzzi Outstanding Volunteer Award.
Through the years, Shaffer has served as a hospice patient companion, spending time with patients so their caregivers can get a much-needed break. She’s created life reviews, collecting patients’ stories to be preserved for future generations. And now she makes bereavement calls, checking in on family members to see how they are managing after the loss of their loved ones.
Shaffer is one of 40 hospice volunteers who use their unique talents to help patients and their families with a variety of needs. Some volunteers provide services like haircuts or massages for patients. Others help with house and yard work. Some come just to hang out, offering a breath of fresh air for people who are shut in.
“We have seasoned volunteers who have experienced loss and have a passion for end-of-life issues; we have KU student volunteers who can be exceptional at connecting with patients,” Rooney explained. “We have quiet and serious volunteers and energetic and humorous volunteers. It really takes all kinds. However, one of the most important qualities in a volunteer is the ability to listen without judgment or the need to advise or fix the situation.”
Shaffer has spent her career doing just that.
Before retirement, she worked as a school social worker, caring for students with severe disabilities.
“People said, ‘Wasn’t that hard to work with children who, in many ways, are suffering?’ If you are there to do something positive, it doesn’t seem that hard,” Shaffer explained.
Similarly, her friends wondered how she could be a volunteer for hospice, surrounded by such sorrow and loss.
“When you are involved in hospice, you quickly realize you build up some coping skills, and, in some ways, the experience rewards you, so it doesn’t seem that hard,” Shaffer explained. “I realized very quickly that dying is a part of life, and being there was a very special thing.”
“Often, when you tell people you work or volunteer for hospice, they say, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that!’” Rooney shared. “You’d be surprised that it’s not that hard. It’s just life, really.”
For more information on volunteering for Visiting Nurses hospice program, contact Rooney at (785) 843-3738 or SarahRo@kansasvna.org.