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Life Experiences Motivate Local Hospice Volunteers

A retired dentist, former financier and college student discover that assisting the infirmed and terminally ill enhances their own lives.

To comfort the dying, engage a person with dementia in a meaningful conversation, or provide respite to a long-term caregiver takes heart and a degree of selflessness that is rare these days. Perhaps.

But it seems in Hamilton-Wenham these qualities are easy to come by. Of the 400 volunteers for Hospice of the North Shore and Greater Boston, 21 of them hail from Hamilton and Wenham.

The words illness, pain and death elicit fear and dread for most. So what is it that compels some to address these dark facts of life head-on, with courage?

Hospice volunteer Fred Mackenzie, a retired dentist who has lived in Hamilton with his wife for 35 years, gives a straightforward answer; “A person has no choice of where they come from but I’ve been lucky, I can’t complain. So I figured it was time to give something back.”

Susan Moniz, who recently completed the 16 hour, five week hospice training provided to all volunteers, shared the sentiment but gave a different answer.

“My father died in hospice care in 2008 and it was really kind of special," she said. "Hospice makes it as comfortable as possible.”

Explaining further she added, “I also lost a brother to AIDS in 1987. I wish I knew more then. After my father died I thought ‘well this (hospice) makes sense’. I firmly believe that no one should die alone."

For Moniz’s daughter Kellyann, who joined her mother in the training, the reason is possibly even more personal. Having struggled through intense emotional trauma following the death of Wenham teenager Gabe Pacione, a former boyfriend, in a car crash in 2008, she is now interested in pursuing grief training.

“Gabe and I went out for two years," she said. "I was a freshman in college and he was a senior in high school. We broke up in July and he died in August. It happened two weeks before I was going back to school.”

In describing what she went through, Moninz explained that guilt accompanied her grief.

“I was alone a lot in my grief because I was unique (in part) because I wasn’t family. And people didn’t necessarily understand," she said. "They expected me to go back to school. But I didn’t, I withdrew.”

Several years later, after going through counseling, a great deal of self-examination, and reading of books on grief by authors including Elizabeth Kubler Ross ("On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss") and Mitch Albom ("Tuesdays With Morrie"), Moniz says she is no longer afraid of death. Instead she has come to understand that, “Death is a huge opportunity to learn about life.”

Seeking growth and learning on her own - away from school - took Moniz to an 81 day Outward Bound experience, and to Brazil on a Hunter College program. But not since she had signed up with a Service Trip to Guatemala while a sophomore in high school had she had done any volunteering. It was her mother’s idea to volunteer with Hospice.

Reflecting on the decision to join, Moniz admitted to being ‘wishy-washy’ at first. But, said, her voice strenthening, “after I thought it through I thought - why wouldn’t I?”

Information about volunteering with Hospice of the North Shore and Greater Boston can be found on its website.

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