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Hospice volunteer helps patients and caregivers
Patients teach Gillhouse of death
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Northeast Georgia Medical Center Hospice volunteer Robin Gillhouse and patient Frances Mize chat while Gillhouse drops be Mize’s Gainesville home Thursday to help for a few hours.

Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center

Hospice provides end-of-life care to terminally ill patients in their homes using volunteers to sit with patients, run errands and provide support for bereaved family members. Volunteers also help hospice with clerical work. For more information about hospice volunteerism, call 770-219-8888 or 1-888-572-3900.

The giving spirit

This holiday season, The Times each day will spotlight a person or couple who give of themselves to help others in the community. Today, meet Robin Gillhouse, who has been volunteering with hospice for Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

 

There are people who feel called to perform humanity's most difficult tasks and find it fulfilling.

Robin Gillhouse is one of those people.

Sometime after her mother died of ovarian cancer more than a decade ago, Gillhouse decided spending time with people in the end stages of their lives was part of her life's purpose.

Volunteering with hospice for Northeast Georgia Medical Center is so much a part of Gillhouse's life that she has scheduled her job around her volunteer time.

"I really believe it's my calling," Gillhouse said. "When my mother passed away about 13 years ago of ovarian cancer, we really didn't have a hospice or anyone that we could rely upon."

Gillhouse, her father and her sister held vigil over her mother for six months with little opportunity for respite.

And for the next few years after her mother's death, Gillhouse said the idea of helping others in a similar situation pulled on her "heartstrings."

She considered nursing, and even started out as a certified nursing assistant. But she decided she didn't want her time spent with patients to revolve around checking vitals.

"It didn't click for me," Gillhouse said. "It just wasn't giving me enough time to spend with the patient, to listen to the patient, to show some compassion. ... I just felt like I needed more one-on-one time."

And so began her tenure as a hospice volunteer, a choice people ask her about often.

"People ask ‘why would you want to do that?' and I think to myself ‘why wouldn't I want to do that?'" Gillhouse said. "It's an opportunity for me to show compassion toward someone at the end of their life and try to make a difference in their life as well as their family's lives."

But most people wouldn't volunteer to share the most difficult period of a family's experience: loss.

"I think people are afraid of death, and just afraid, sometimes, of the raw emotions that show themselves throughout that process," she said.

But Gillhouse doesn't have that fear. And being part of that process and making the transition easier for others, actually feels rewarding to her.

Once a week, at least, Gillhouse visits with her assigned patient, giving the family members time to run errands or just sleep.

She listens to the stories a person feels the need to share in his last days. She offers what reassurance she can that whatever illness that has brought them together is not as much a burden on the family members as an opportunity to spend more time together.

She shares a prayer.

But as she works to reassure others, Gillhouse finds herself finding comfort, too.

Gillhouse says her patients teach her about death.

Her Christian faith has always taught her that death holds promise. But the people she works with through hospice have given Gillhouse a peace about death.

"It could be just the ones that I've been paired up with, but they're very calm about it. They're very accepting," she said. "There are different stages: sometimes there's frustration. But the end result is just peace. When a patient has been close to death, and I've gone just a short while to be with them, there's an overwhelming peace that I feel."

 

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