From The Outside In

An HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospice volunteer found a way to provide companionship during the pandemic — when he was needed most.

More than a year ago, Lewis Titus would have walked in the front door of Care Partners Assisted Living in Altoona, stopped at the front desk and then headed to Larry Hakey’s room for a visit.

But on a recent Monday, and most Mondays for nearly a year, Titus walked past the front door, passed five bedroom windows to the sixth, and waited for a Care Partner colleague to pull back the shade and maybe even open the window.

Titus, 68 of Eau Claire, is a hospice volunteer for HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it could have brought his visits with 71-year-old Hakey to an end. But Titus wasn’t prepared to let that happen.

Blessed to Serve

Titus began volunteering for hospice in 2018. His wife, Norma, was his inspiration.

“I was taught a lot from my wife, who always cared for others,” he said. “I was always shadowing her. A simple hug and a listening ear does so much.”

Norma took care of friends and family often when they needed help. Then, as Norma battled cancer, she was given care and solace from HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospice team. Titus said Norma’s hospice nurse convinced him to give hospice volunteering a try.

It takes a bit of time to become a hospice volunteer. There are a couple days of classes to attend, said Jen Binczak, hospice volunteer coordinator. But after those are complete, a volunteer can expect to be paired with patient to provide companionship as well as emotional and spiritual support.

Titus said it’s what he was meant to do.

“It fills a void in my heart that my wife left,” he said. “It gives me something that comforts my heart, and it can be a blessing for someone else.”

When he began volunteering in 2018, Titus never imagined he’d have to think outside of the box to visit his patient when spring of 2020 rolled around. That’s when most health care facilities stopped allowing visitors including hospice volunteers.

But the change didn’t negatively affect Titus’ visits.

“It’s actually been no different than before as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “We can still speak freely through the window.

“Larry (Hakey) is such a kind person. He’s always smiling and glad to see me.”

Some might think back to winter months and wonder how Titus managed standing outside, talking through Hakey’s window in -20 degree weather, but Titus wasn’t bothered a bit.

“I just dress for the weather … and it’s a blessing for both of us,” he said.

And although working with patients who are expected to die is sad, Titus said he knows and appreciates his role.

“People want to know what they should expect for their last days, and that’s how you kind of know where they are coming from,” Titus said. “I tell them, ‘You are in control. You are your own boss so to speak in this.

“I’m always saddened when death comes, but at the same time, death is inevitable. You want to make their final days filled with joy.”

Want to learn more about our Hospice Volunteer role? Visit HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital

You may also be interested in “5 Ways to be your own health advocate.”