My Experience as a Hospice Volunteer | Expectations Blown Away


When becoming a hospice volunteer, my expectations were that I would be reading, holding hands and sitting quietly with patients.   I had no idea that I would build new friendships that would lead to events like taking patients on plane and motorcycle rides.

While talking with Mark, we had a number of similar life experiences such as: Alaska (he had lived there, I have visited), motorcycle riding, and flying.

I thought to myself, “How fun would it be for him to be able to do some of these things while there is still time?” After that, I connected with some of my friends and have been overwhelmed by their generosity and willingness to schedule these events so quickly. They have provided the red-carpet treatment in all cases.

What makes these events so fun for these additional volunteers is Mark’s grateful heart. His trademark phrase was, “I’m so happy.”

What a kind soul that I have been blessed to know.

-Doug K., Hospice of the Midwest Volunteer

Volunteers are right at the heart of what we do here at Hospice of the Midwest. Thanks to amazing volunteers like Doug, our patients the receive unique, personal care they deserve. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a volunteer with Hospice of the Midwest, contact us at

Volunteer Laughter Clinic

In Hospice, we deal with life and death… Whether we are clinicians or volunteers, it is vitally important to remember that when we put a smile on the face of our patients or their families, we bring something more than a service or our presence, and we bring HOPE! Not for a cure to the disease, but reprieve from worry, and a bit of joy when depression or anxiety is present. Our ‘Laughter Clinic’ was a success for Volunteers at Hospice of the Midwest~ MN! Volunteers were trained in different modes of laughter and how to use it with Hospice patients. Each shared funny stories they’ve experienced with patients or their own dying family members.\

– Nichole, Volunteer & Bereavement Coordinator

Pictured, are some of our staff and volunteers that participated in the clinic.

My Experience as a Veteran Volunteer – A Personal Testimony

I first met Pat in May of 2019. I visited Pat over 9 times this summer, my last visit just two days before he passed away on August 23, 2019.

When we were first introduced, we shook hands, and I remarked how his full name sounded so distinguished; he chuckled, looked at me and said “just call me Pat.”  From that day forward, he was “just Pat.”

Most all of our visits involved discussions about his boyhood on the farm, enlisting in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, and starting his own family and farming after the war. 

Pat liked to talk about growing up on the farm with his brothers and sisters, and the times they would go swimming in the Skunk River on hot days. Pat told this story,

“Sometimes when the water was high, you had to be really careful because you might step in a hole and go under or get your foot caught in a submerged tree branch. We all looked out for each other, but one day when my brothers and I were ‘dunking’ each other, I held my brother down under the water so he couldn’t come back up; boy was he squirming and kicking around. But you know, I wouldn’t let anybody drown, I was just fooling around with him, so I pulled him back up, and boy was he mad. He told my Dad what I had done.”

When I visited Pat, I always wore my Veterans of Foreign Wars uniform shirt and service cap. It was on my third visit to Pat, I had just come through the door into a long hallway leading to a small lounging area with bookshelves and a sofa. There, sitting by himself, was Pat. He looked up, saw me, held up his arm and said in a loud voice, “You coming to see me?”  I said, “Yes, I am,” as he waved me on back and said, “Have a seat.” We shook hands and I asked him how he was feeling today. He replied while laughing, “Feeling fine and still kicking.” We started visiting and it wasn’t too long before another Air Force veteran joined us. On a previous visit, I had brought two large hardcover books with colored photos of planes of WWII and the Korean War for Pat and me to look at. Don B., a Korean War pilot himself, saw the books and soon was looking over our backs and joining in our conversation. It was a very nice visit 

On another visit, we were talking about Pat’s farms in the area, and discussed the livestock, crops, and machinery on his farms. I told Pat that I also grew up on a farm raising chickens, hogs, beef and dairy cattle, oats, beans, corn, alfalfa and clover hay. I asked Pat what was the thing he liked best on the farm; he was quick to answer with a big smile, “Making and baling hay.” We both agreed that there wasn’t anything to compare to the sweet scent of a freshly cut field of Alfalfa or Red Clover. 

During one of our visits, I told Pat that I was an army veteran and had gotten drafted during the Vietnam War. Pat responded that when the Korean War broke out, he knew it was his patriotic duty to help his country, but he did not want to shoot or kill anybody, so he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Pat couldn’t remember where he was stationed at the time, but there was an incidence where he caught two men stealing supplies. When they wouldn’t stop, he had to make up his mind on what to do. He explained, “I really did not want to hurt anybody, but I had to do something, so I shot them in the legs.” Other than this one incident, Pat said he really enjoyed his time in the Air Force and would do it all over again.

There was one visit where I got to sit with Pat during an hour-long music session. The young guitarist conducting the session would ask for requests from those in the room. Most of the songs were from the 40’s through the 70’s. Except for one song, where Pat dozed off, he sang and kept time with every song. He even got to beat time on a drum during one song.

During our visits, (except for my last two visits due to his decline in health) we always shook hands when I first came and again on leaving, at which Pat would smile and say, ”See ya next time,” and wave goodbye.

On my last visit to Pat, I met his daughter, Melanie, who had stayed overnight with Pat due to his recent health decline and worsening dementia. She said her mother and siblings were taking turns staying overnight with him. We talked about my visits, and she mentioned how Pat seemed to perk-up when they talked about the Air Force with him. Unfortunately, Pat passed away two days after this visit.

When I attended Pat’s funeral, I wore my VFW uniform, and upon arriving, I expressed my condolences to Melanie as she introduced me to her sisters. They thanked me and expressed their appreciation for me coming that day. I then walked to Pat’s casket. Pat was in a new black suit and looked very sharp with the tri-folded American flag just to the left of his head. While there, Melanie came over and said they had a new U.S. Air Force logo pin and were wondering if it would be okay for it to be buried with Pat. I said I was sure Pat would be very proud to have that pin. Melanie returned with several members of her family, handed me the pin and asked me to put it on Pat. I put the pin on Pat’s left lapel, straightened it, stepped back, came to attention, and gave Air Force Veteran G. Patrick R. a final salute.

– Dennis

Breast Cancer Awareness | Be Involved

Did you know? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This month is dedicated to increasing awareness of breast cancer, raising funding for research into the cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure of breast cancer, and providing information and support for those with breast cancer or for those who may be at risk for breast cancer. Here are six ways that you can get involved:

Offer support! Consider charities that focus on supporting those with breast cancer. Charities that assist with gas cards, wigs, the payment of treatment, makeup classes, etc. are all excellent ways to support the fight against breast cancer. Or, if you know of someone personally affected by breast cancer, offer to assist them. Something as simple as offering to bring them dinner or to help with their housework can be a big relief during a physically and emotionally demanding time.

Donate to research initiatives. Look for charities that use funding to research a cure for metastatic breast cancer.

Know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. According to Clearview Cancer Institute in Huntsville (, any of the following signs and symptoms would warrant a consult with a physician:

  • A lump in the breast or underarm area
  • An enlargement of pores around the breast or nipple area (often described as an orange peel’s texture)
  • Dimpling on the breast
  • Unexplained swelling or shrinkage of one of the breasts
  • An inverted nipple
  • Nipple discharge that is clear or bloody

Complete Breast Cancer Screening. Encourage others to do the same! Unfortunately, many people with early stages of breast cancer do not exhibit symptoms, which makes it critically important for patients to schedule yearly mammograms and to complete regular self-exams. According to, the latest guidelines recommend that women should begin having yearly mammograms by age 45 and can begin to have mammograms every other year beginning at age 55. The Centers for Disease Control states that the United States Prevention Services Task Force External (USPSTF) recommends that you speak to your physician about when and how often you should receive a mammogram, as certain risk factors may warrant an earlier exam.

Regularly perform Self Breast Exams. Encourage others to do the same! According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, self-exams should be completed once a month. For a information on how to perform a self-breast exam, visit

Know the risk factors and share those factors with others! Some factors, such as gender, age, and genetics are beyond your control. But other factors, such as lifestyle and diet, can decrease your risk of breast cancer. Visit for a comprehensive list of risk factors.

Fall Motorcycle Ride


Thank you to our wonderful volunteers who took one of our patients on a beautiful, fall motorcycle ride!

As one of the volunteers put it, “I feel blessed to be able to serve & make someone’s day a bit brighter!”

Well, they definitely made this patient’s day brighter. Thank you to our volunteers and all you do!

It’s Okay to Feel Shocked

The death of a loved one is a hard reality to grasp. Often, it can feel like a bad dream that you just can’t wake up from. Although you may know that your loved one is very sick or in the process of dying, the unavoidability of dying always feels sudden, unforeseen and unbelievable. It’s shocking.

It is important to recognize that shock is a natural part of the grieving process and can occur many times before the loss fully settles in. Although it doesn’t feel normal, it’s your body’s way of handling painful experiences. Given time, the shock will weaken, but you must understand this process is hard, and it takes time to accept death.

Most of all, keep in mind that although the grieving process is difficult and the loss is shocking, there will come a time when you will acknowledge and accept the loss. You will always remember the loved ones you have lost, but you do not need to always grieve their absence.

If you find yourself struggling with the shock and overwhelming grief of losing a loved one, keep these phrases in mind:

  • Allow your grief
  • Be patient with yourself
  • Be willing to change things


Our bereavement services are available to families for up to 13 months following the loss of a loved one. We also host monthly support group sessions at our Hospice of the Midwest locations. Support groups offer families and friends a platform to share their experience with others in the community who are facing similar situations. Please contact us for more information about our bereavement services. 

Keeping Dignity | Caregiver Tips

Your loved one can no longer do the many tasks they once could. They now depend on you for many of these things. The easiest solution may be to simply take over and make decision, but it’s important to be respectful of your loved ones. As a caregiver, you want to protect your loved one’s dignity and sense of self-worth.

Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine if your independence had slipped away. You can no longer drive, walk, or get out of bed. These once simple tasks now require help from someone else. How would this make you feel? You may feel frustrated. This loss of freedom would most likely cause you to want to keep control over as much as you possibly could.

Here are some helpful suggestions:

  • Put yourself in your loved one’s place. How would you want to be treated if you were being cared for?
  • Educate yourself on your loved one’s condition. This can prepare you for what’s ahead.
  • Help them do what they can on their own for as long as possible. This will give them a sense of control.
  • Talk openly and honestly with your loved one. Try to involve them in decisions and be a good listener.
  • Be flexible. Try an accommodate reasonable requests if you can.
  • Give positive feedback if your loved one does a task on their own.

Our Bereavement Services

Grieving for loved ones who are experiencing a life-limiting illness is natural for families and friends. This process can often begin before death occurs. Hospice of the Midwest Bereavement Services are available for those who are coping with losing a loved one. Our staff is committed to working closely with families who are working through the grieving process. Our services include:

  • One-on-one support
  • Print materials
  • Supportive phone calls
  • In-home support sessions

Our support is available to families for up to 13 months following the loss of a loved one. We also host monthly support group sessions at our Hospice of the Midwest locations. Support groups offer families and friends a platform to share their experience with others in the community who are facing similar situations.

Our services don’t stop once your loved one has passed. We are committed to helping families and friends of patients even after they are gone. Please contact us for more information about our Bereavement Services.

The Calming Presence of Pet Therapy

“Carol LOVES cats!” Community Liaison for Hospice of the Midwest, Nick Blees stated as he asked if we had a therapy cat and volunteer to visit Carol. Volunteer Lynnette had just the right cat, Noodle, to visit with Carol in her last weeks of life. Lynnette sat nearby as Carol would pet noodle, over and over again.

Nick said, “I had learned of Carol’s love for cats and that she had to give hers up when she moved into the memory care unit. When I heard this, I reached out and was immediately able to find the perfect cat to visit with Carol. After she passed, we reminisced on a photo of Carol smiling with Noodle, a woman that had been in pain leading up to her hospice admission.”

The team at Hospice of the Midwest was able to hear what was important to Carol and fulfill that wish prior to her passing.

Lynnette, Noodle’s owner explained, “Noodle and I met Carol in her last days. She was aware that Noodle was near as he curled up on the side of her bed and helped comfort her by touching his paw on her hand. It was a tender moment.”

Pets have a calming and soothing quality to their presence, which bodes well for hospice patients. Pet therapy was just what Carol needed as she did not have family nearby to visit her. It was an honor to give her this gift.

All My Life’s a Circle | Hospice of the Midwest Music Therapy

Music therapy is an important part of what Hospice of the Midwest has to offer our patients. Our Music Therapist, Crystal Berkenes, provides services that help with pain management and end-of-life support. Crystal utilizes music and instrumentation to reach non-musical goals, increase self-expression and decrease anxiety or restlessness. Collaborating with team members who work with the patients daily, Crystal can create a music therapy plan that is tailored to what the patients connect to.

When one patient mentioned to Crystal his fond memories of sitting around a campfire while singing songs and making music with guitars and spoons, she had an idea. Crystal and another team member began putting together a special campfire experience for this patient by finding and researching how they could create a campfire experience without the real fire. Due to the patient being on oxygen, a real fire was simply not an option, so the team members found a faux battery-powered campfire online for them to sit around and sing.

The patient got his campfire experience. As Crystal plucked at her banjo & another team member strummed her guitar, they sang along to campfire songs with the patient. Person after person kept stopping by, commenting on how life-like the fire was and listening to the music. Weeks later, patients continued bring up the experience. Crystal even remembers the patient belly-laughing when someone asked if they were roasting marsh mellows on the fire.

“You could almost feel the warmth in the room because of the flame and music we were creating,” stated the patient.

This experience was really geared towards the patient and what was important for him. That’s the special thing about music therapy. Music therapists are able to listen to the patients and act on what they hear by making it a reality and helping them through music.

By giving this patient, and many others, personal experiences through music, music therapists help take away the pain in that moment. Here at Hospice of the Midwest we strive to make our patients more comfortable, and with the help from our therapists like Crystal Berkenes, that’s possible.

The patient put it best when he said, “It has always been important, throughout my entire life, that people are able to have experiences like these with music.” As he has reflected on lyrics toward deeper meaning for his life he recalls, “All my life’s a circle…”