Volunteer! Make a Resolution to Help Others

By the time the clock strikes midnight and the champagne corks start popping, many of us will have written a list of New Year’s resolutions. Estimates show that about half of all Americans commit to at least one pledge to make a positive change in their lives. For many, this means eating right, exercising, saving money, getting more organized, and quitting or reducing bad habits. But, as I perused the government website http://www.usa.gov, I was also happy to see that one of the most popular resolutions is volunteering to help others.

In hospice, I don’t know what we would do without our wonderful volunteers! The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization estimates that 458,000 hospice volunteers provide more than 21 million hours of service to hospice programs every year. The average hospice volunteer devotes 46.7 hours of time and makes an average of 20 visits to hospice patients annually.

At Solari Hospice Care, I’ve dubbed our volunteers “angels.” These dedicated, caring, compassionate men and women, who so selflessly give of their time and talents, truly touch our hearts. They provide support, companionship and dignity to patients, families and caregivers at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.

Hospice volunteers play an indispensable role in enabling Solari Hospice Care to offer the best care possible for people who are facing serious and life-limiting illnesses. I can’t say enough about the energy, expertise and enthusiasm volunteers add to our program. Hospice volunteers help the people they serve live every moment of life to the fullest. It seems almost every day, we hear compliments and stories of gratitude about the work that our volunteers are doing.

Volunteers at Solari Hospice Care perform a variety of different tasks. They help family members with short-term respite relief, enabling them to get away from home for an hour or so to run errands. Volunteers sit at the bedside with patients, reading to them or simply talking and listening. Some volunteers share a special knowledge or hobby, such as speaking a second language, singing or playing music. Other volunteers provide specialized services to patients, like notary services. Solari volunteers also answer phones, assist with receptionist duties and perform light secretarial support.

Mark Twain once said, “The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.” It’s an incredibly rewarding experience to know you are giving back to those in need. Even a couple of hours a week can have a huge impact!

Ironically, some of the biggest benefits in becoming a hospice volunteer may not be limited to those gifts you give, but rather to those gifts you receive. There’s something about carving out time to help others that leaves you feeling better about yourself. In fact, research shows that kindness is good for you. Did you know that your body releases the hormone oxytocin when you perform a good deed? Oxytocin reduces blood pressure and aids in heart health, keeping you healthier and happier. Volunteering also builds self-esteem and self-confidence, and helps you develop or hone new skills.

In the end, volunteering is a win-win for everyone involved. As you contemplate what you would like to accomplish in 2013, I encourage you to consider reaching out to help others. We would love to have more “angels” join our volunteer team and become part of the Solari family.

To learn more about Solari’s volunteer programs, contact our volunteer coordinators: Shari Diebold, Las Vegas, 702-870-0000, shari.diebold@solarihospice.net, or Supriya Joshi, Houston, 713-664-7120, supriya.joshi@solarihospice.net.

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Wear Blue in Support of Children’s Grief Awareness Day

I’m grateful for and passionate about the opportunity to help children learn how to process grief in a constructive way so they can again embrace life with confidence, enthusiasm and joy. That’s why I’m excited to share a guest blog about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, Children’s Grief Awareness Day.

By Jamie Muth, Executive Director, Solari Hospice Foundation

As I leave to go to work in the mornings, my two young children, ages 1 and 4, sometimes have trouble telling me goodbye. They’ll cry or hug me and plead, “Don’t go, Mommy.” Even though we all know I will be coming back in just a few short hours to get them, there’s always a bit of pain in the separation.

For millions of children, that goodbye isn’t temporary. One out of 20 children in our country will experience the death of a parent before they graduate from high school, while one out of every seven children will face the death of someone close to them. Children often take longer to deal with their grief than adults, they may have trouble expressing how they feel, or they may feel “different” or “alone,” like no one understands.

Grieving children need support. That’s why I hope you will join me in wearing blue on Thursday, Nov. 15, in recognition of Children’s Grief Awareness Day, an opportunity to let grieving children know that they aren’t forgotten in the midst of their grief. Observed on the third Thursday of every November – one week before Thanksgiving – Children’s Grief Awareness Day is intentionally set in the holiday season, because that’s often the most difficult time for survivors to cope with their grief.

As executive director of Solari Hospice Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides bereavement assistance to children and families, I see firsthand how important it is to help children find healthy ways to work through their inner turmoil and learn to be happy again. At our Camp Solari, a weekend-long bereavement camp for children (ages 6-17) and their caregiver(s), families gather in a safe and supportive environment, work with professional grief and loss counselors, and engage in a variety of fun, therapeutic activities.

Providing information on the grieving process can reassure a bereaved child that everything he or she is feeling is normal.  It helps children to identify and express feelings which may be causing them confusion or angst and to share their fears with other children who are going through similar loss.

I’m always touched after listening to the stories of our campers, because I know – from personal experience – that at any time, tragedy or illness can befall any family and a child’s whole world can change. I know because when I was a young girl, I lost my six-year-old brother due to a terrible accident. It was devastating for my entire family. Every time I go to Camp Solari, I light a candle in his memory. Every time I think about his death, I think about what my life might have been like if I’d been able to grow up with him.

If you, like me, have a soft spot in your heart for grieving children, I would encourage you to “send a kid to camp” and help them heal. Currently, Camp Solari is offered in Las Vegas, Nev.; Houston, Tex.; and Phoenix, Ariz.  Funding for these camps is critical to provide families with the counseling and tools they so desperately need.  There is no cost for campers to participate.  All donations – no matter how small – are greatly appreciated and truly make a difference.

For more information about Camp Solari, go to www.solarihospicefoundation.org, call me at 877-795-8700, or e-mail me at Jamie@solarihospicefoundation.org. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Solari Hospice Care Honors Dedicated Chaplains During Pastoral Care Week

I am pleased to publish a guest blog to recognize and honor Solari’s dedicated spiritual leaders who work with our patients and families. It’s not always easy to find “the right words” to guide people on their end-of-life journey, but these men and women have a gift for doing exactly that. Thank you!

By Matthew Stephens, Spiritual Coordinator, Houston Solari Hospice Care

Spiritual leaders, pastoral care counselors, educators and care providers of numerous faiths, philosophies and traditions come together in a show of unity this week, October 21-27, in honor of “Pastoral Care Week.” At Solari Hospice Care, we are proud to recognize the work of our dedicated team of chaplains from all spiritual denominations and practices who support our hospice care patients and their loved ones.

The first “Pastoral Care Week” was held in October 1985. Since then, it has grown beyond national to international proportions. This year’s theme, “Giving Voice: Joining Together to Empower, Express and Educate,” highlights the need to find unity in the midst of diversity. It recognizes the contributions made by spiritual leaders in numerous settings throughout the world, including hospitals, prisons, businesses, industries, long-term care facilities, pastoral counseling centers, hospices, military settings, nursing homes, corporations, congregations of sisters, priests and brothers, schools and universities.

The word compassion means “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Solari’s mission to provide compassionate care isn’t limited to physical and medical care, but also encompasses a full realm of emotional and spiritual concerns. In fact, when Solari patients are asked, “Do you want to see a chaplain?” the large majority of them do.

Each year, chaplains at Solari Hospice Care make hundreds of calls and visits to help people face their end-of-life journey. It’s a pivotal time in the lives of these men and women – a time when faith can be tested or strengthened, when reassurance may be needed, or when questions arise. Why is this happening to me now? What will happen to me after I die? Will my family survive my loss? Will I be missed? How will I be remembered? What was the meaning of my life? Our role isn’t to give advice, but to respect and nurture the individual’s belief system and teachings. Sometimes, we pray or meditate with patients. Oftentimes, we simply listen. Always, we offer words of comfort and support.

Our spiritual caregivers at Solari bring many gifts to the process of healing and wholeness. Patients may have strong affiliation with religious institutions. When this is the case, we make efforts to bridge this connection. Solari’s doors are open to all members of the clergy and other spiritual leaders. For example, spiritual services — such as communion or last rites — also can be arranged.  Likewise, we can arrange for guided meditations, aromatherapy or whatever practice helps the patient achieve peace in their final days.

In addition, Solari’s chaplains reach out to family members and loved ones of our patients to meet their spiritual needs. Our Inpatient Hospice Centers in both Houston and Las Vegas have a serene chapel room for spiritual reflection. Bereavement services are provided following the death of the patient through counseling and free weekly grief support groups. We also hold annual “Celebration of Life” memorial services. In Las Vegas, this event will take place on Sunday, Nov. 4, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the beautiful botanical gardens of the Springs Preserve, 333 W. Valley View Blvd. In Houston, we will be gathering on Saturday, Nov. 17, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the historical St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church, 8915 Timberside Drive.

When people find out what I do for a living, they often comment that I must have a sad, depressing job. Actually, it’s incredibly uplifting and rewarding to reach out to people at one of the most vulnerable and intimate periods in their lives. It’s a humbling experience to sit at the bedside of a patient whose death is imminent or hold the hand of a family member who is mourning. Like so many other spiritual leaders being honored during “Pastoral Care Week,” I feel grateful to have the privilege of helping hospice patients and families, easing their final transition and soothing their pain.

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Woody Guthrie’s Legacy Lives on for Huntington’s Disease Victims

Forty-five years ago today, Oct. 3, 1967, America lost one of its greatest folk singers, Woody Guthrie, to Huntington’s Disease. This inherited disorder attacks nerve cells in certain parts of the brain and causes them to degenerate – affecting a person’s functional abilities and usually resulting in movement, cognitive and psychiatric disorders.  Woody was only 55 years old when he died.

Like other school children in the United States, I remember sitting in music class as a child and learning the words to Woody’s famous song, “This Land Is Your Land.” Years later, I can still sing the chorus. Most of you probably can, too. Woody had a gift. He was a true storyteller who used his ballads to make social commentaries about everyone from the urban poor to migrant workers. During the more than 15 years that he battled Huntington’s Disease, he continued to communicate his conviction that every man, woman and child has within them the power to make a difference.

After he died, Woody’s widow Marjorie was determined to help others.  She placed a small ad in a New York City newspaper and slowly gathered a determined handful of volunteers and affected families from across the United States.  From that grassroots effort, a worldwide movement began that has spurred research and education. While there is still no cure for Huntington’s Disease, we’ve learned a lot more about it.

At Solari Hospice, we regularly see patients who are suffering from the end stages of Huntington’s. It’s always sad. This disease often affects people in the prime of their lives. Onset of symptoms generally occurs between the ages of 35 and 44, with the disease worsening over time. Most people with Huntington’s die within 15 to 20 years. In addition, if a parent carries the gene for Huntington’s – which is caused by a genetic defect on chromosome 4 – there is a 50 percent chance that their child will get it.

Years ago, people didn’t realize the disease was inherited. So, tragically, in hospice, we’ve seen entire families affected. We’ve seen people lose spouses, and then turn around and lose their children. We’ve seen people lose their siblings, knowing that one day they will develop this disease.

For people who have end-stage Huntington’s Disease, hospice can be invaluable. As the disease progresses, the affected person will need assistance and supervision, and eventually 24-hour care. At Solari, our interdisciplinary team of professionals is trained to manage the multitude of symptoms that occur, which can include hallucinations, psychosis, jerking and uncontrolled movements, tremors and dementia. And, our hospice team can provide this assistance at the patient’s or caregiver’s home or in our Inpatient Center, so the patient doesn’t have to go to a hospital.

Moreover, we can help the caregivers better manage the physical and emotional strain of taking care of their loved ones with end-stage Huntington’s by providing numerous resources, medical equipment and pain management. We also help caregivers deal with the grief and anxiety they are experiencing through our wonderful chaplains, counselors and bereavement support groups.

At the end of his life, Woody Guthrie was largely alone. Due to the progression of Huntington’s, he was difficult to be around. Without the education we now have, his symptoms went largely untreated. However, today, thanks to his legacy, we have a wealth of information and great hope for a cure. I hope researchers find one! Until they do … please know that care is always available. If a family member or loved one has end-stage Huntington’s Disease, I encourage you to ask your doctor about the benefits of hospice. Please know that you don’t have to walk this ribbon of highway alone.

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Alzheimer’s Patients, Caregivers Both Benefit from Hospice Care

For many years now, I have had the pleasure of working with Candis Armour, R.N., executive director for our Solari Hospice Care operations in Las Vegas. This month, I’ve invited Candis to share a guest blog with you on Alzheimer’s Disease. I also want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Candis – and all of the dedicated members of our Solari staff – who continue to educate the public about Alzheimer’s and provide compassionate care to the many patients and caregivers affected by it.

By Candis Armour, R.N.

Do you have purple clothing in your closet? If so, I hope you will join me and thousands of others worldwide in wearing your purple on Friday, Sept. 21, in honor of World Alzheimer’s Day. This special day is a time that’s been set aside to raise the public consciousness about Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia and currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Every day at Solari Hospice Care, I see patients and their caregivers struggling to manage the ravages of this disease. Often I hear, “We didn’t know that hospice was an option” or “I wish we’d heard about hospice sooner.”

During the last six months of life, Alzheimer’s patients usually become bedridden, uncommunicative and may get skin sores, suffer from weight loss or develop infections. In addition to Alzheimer’s, many patients have secondary health issues, such as cardiac problems or diabetes, that compound care. Hospice can provide pain management and address patients’ multiple medical issues. It also allows people to die peacefully and with dignity.

However, I think what’s equally important for people to know is that hospice can relieve some of the caregivers’ burdens. At the disease progresses and intensifies, caregivers can become physically and mentally exhausted. They don’t know where to turn or how to get help.

At Solari, our multidisciplinary team can arrange for special adaptive equipment or services to make caring for the patient easier. Volunteers can sit with patients when caregivers need to take a short break or run an errand. Solari has contracts with local facilities that provide respite care, if needed. And, if pain or symptoms become too severe to medically manage at home, Solari offers a freestanding 12-bed inpatient center with 24-hour acute care.

We also address the caregivers’ emotional concerns and the grieving that goes along with seeing a loved one slowly succumb to this disease. Our free bereavement services – including spiritual support and counseling – are available to caregivers throughout the patient’s illness and for 13 months after death.

Like other illnesses, Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance companies cover the cost of hospice care for most Alzheimer’s disease patients, so there are usually no out-of-pocket costs.

Alzheimer’s is such a devastating disease. No one should face it alone. I strongly encourage caregivers dealing with advanced Alzheimer’s patients to consider hospice care. Solari is always here to provide information and answer questions.

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Solari Hospice Foundation: Giving Back to Grieving Families

Through Solari Hospice Care my team of compassionate caregivers and I have been blessed to care for thousands of terminally ill patients and their families. We strive 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to improve their quality of life with service that stresses the highest level of comfort and dignity. But no matter how diligently we work to achieve this mission, there’s always more we can do.

That’s why we’re committed to the growth of the Solari Hospice Foundation.

I started this nonprofit organization more than a decade ago to help grieving children and their surviving caregivers through a series of innovative bereavement camps, educational resources, and other support services. At Camp Solari in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Houston, Texas, professional grief and loss counselors provide children ages 6 to 17 and their surviving guardians with the tools they need to cope with their loss and move forward with joy and enthusiasm while honoring the memory of the deceased. Age-appropriate activities include art and music therapy, journaling, and one-on-one and group talk therapy sessions. Perhaps most importantly, at Camp Solari kids learn that they are not alone.

It’s amazing to see the change in these grief-stricken children in just three short days — the joyous feeling of camaraderie that lights up their faces as they interact with other young people who have experienced similar losses. It’s truly a life-changing experience for both the campers and those involved in helping them work through their grief.

Personally, I find an incredible sense of fulfillment through my work with the Solari Hospice Foundation. When you can help a child overcome such a devastating loss and then redirect his or her life, you have truly made a difference. Since we started Camp Solari, the success stories we’ve heard are incredibly touching. We’ve seen children who almost refused to talk open up and come to terms with their loss. We’ve seen children in denial finally acknowledge their inner feelings. And, over and over, children have told us how they no longer feel so isolated knowing that other families are working through the same issues as they are.

We always have a waiting list for our camps, which are open to the public and are fueled by financial and in-kind contributions. There is absolutely no cost for participating families. The need for this service is immense … so donations are critical to our success in reaching as many grieving children and families as possible. 

With that goal in mind, we are launching our first Camp Solari in Phoenix, Arizona, in April 2013. If you or someone you know could benefit from the camp, or if you would like to support this important cause through a financial or in-kind donation, please visit our website at www.solarihospicefoundation.org to download an application or learn about sponsorship and volunteer opportunities.

Your support will help fill a void in a child’s life. Thank you very much for your consideration.

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Solari Hospice Care Recognizes “National Pain Awareness Month”

Watching a loved one die is hard. Watching a loved one die in pain is harder. One of the reasons I’m so passionate about hospice and the work that we do is that I firmly believe no one should suffer needlessly in pain.

In September, Solari Hospice Care is proud to join with individuals and organizations around the country in recognition of “National Pain Awareness Month.” This provides an opportunity to raise awareness and increase education about pain issues, support the millions of Americans who suffer from pain, and bring positive changes to the public’s perception of pain management.

  Did you know that one of the greatest fears people have is that they – or someone they love – will die in pain? It’s true. In fact, according to a 2011 survey commissioned by Dying Matter, a coalition of several major charities that promote end-of-life discussions, people are more frightened of dying in pain (83 percent) than of being informed that they are actually dying in the first place (67 percent).

Pain and symptom management is the hallmark of hospice. It’s our top priority. Everything we do is geared to relieve suffering and provide pain relief so that people can enjoy the best quality of life possible and then die peacefully and with dignity.

People need to know that there is somewhere they can turn for help. In choosing hospice care, patients receive physical as well as emotional and spiritual comfort in an atmosphere that is warm, caring and compassionate. Our interdisciplinary team – which includes physicians, nurses, social workers, aides, counselor, volunteers and other support staff – all work together to keep patients as pain-free as possible.

Before the hospice movement took hold in the United States in the early 1980s, a patient with severe pain had few choices for good pain control, most of which involved hospitalization. And, so instead of being surrounded by family and friends in a loving environment, people often died in a hospital bed among beeping noises, loud speakers and high-tech machines.

Today, it doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks to hospice, most patients – even those who develop severe pain – can be cared for in their homes. Should the pain escalate to the point it can’t be managed at home, both our Houston and Las Vegas Solari Hospice Care programs offer highly personalized, 12-bed inpatient hospice centers with 24-hour-a-day acute medical care in a tranquil, homelike setting.

While there comes a time where medicine can no longer add days to a life, in hospice we can add life to those days – and make sure patients don’t spend that precious time battling pain.

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