What is first apparent when meeting Susan Steinberg is her winning smile and zest for life. Susan first learned about end-of-life care while supporting two close personal friends, both women battling advanced stages of breast cancer. "Their emotional and physical responses to treatment were so personal, so different. I just felt honored to be able to help," Susan says.
Over the past seven years, most of Susan’s Volunteer Visitor assignments have been with patients residing in Skilled Nursing Facilities due to her fluctuating work schedule. She is currently seeing two patients in the same facility. Susan does her homework before meeting a new patient. She contacts a family member, usually a daughter or son, whomever is the primary caregiver, to get a sense of who the patient is, their needs, and their interests. She gathers responses to questions such as: "Do they like to be read to? Are they interested in current events? Do they function better in the morning or evening? What are their hobbies or interests? Do they have pets? What was their occupation? Susan then arranges her first visit.
"The specialness for me is with the being, not so much with the doing. I appreciate the whole experience of being there and providing whatever the person needs. Quite often the main task is listening."
Families have been genuinely receptive of Susan’s approach. And her experiences with patients are often remarkable. "I feel honored that they let me in at such a special time. I think of it as a transitional time similar to a birth. There is so much amazing energy in the stillness. The time is full of awe and mystery. It doesn’t seem like regular linear time, but a more fluid and intense special time all its own."
Hospice Volunteer Visitors undergo specialized 36-hour training that covers important topics such as communication, spiritual care, personal and professional boundaries, attentive listening, self care and grief and loss. It’s important information that helps Visitors to understand their role, and to develop healthy boundaries when dealing with hospice patients and caregivers. Once a month, there are support groups that encourage volunteers to share and learn from each other’s experiences. If special concerns or issues arise, Hospice staff is available to support Visitors and to honor their unique needs and experiences.
As a Volunteer Visitor for Hospice of Santa Cruz County, Susan has learned that being present for a dying person with a kind word or a gentle touch is a tremendous gift to the patient and, in turn, is an uplifting experience. "It’s a tremendous honor to be part of that amazing time with families."