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No One Dies Alone: End-of-life vigil program expands in Oregon, seeks more volunteers

When Jim Pfeifer lost his 45-year-old daughter, his only child, to breast cancer last year, he was at her bedside during her final hours.

'I couldn't imagine her being by herself,' says Pfeifer, who was joined by other family members - her daughter's husband, son and mother - to say goodbye.

But not everyone can be with loved ones when they die, and it is Pfeifer's mission to ensure that the dying do not spend their final hours by themselves.

Pfeifer, 70, is director of No One Dies Alone, a program through which volunteers hold end-of-life vigils to offer companionship and comfort to the dying.

A free service operated by Wilsonville-based Signature Hospice, No One Dies Alone assigns volunteers - known as compassionate companions - to sit at the bedsides of the dying when relatives, friends or hospice workers cannot be there. Compassionate companions may read or sing to the patient, hold or massage their hands, play music for them, perhaps pray with them.

The 'round-the-clock vigils typically last 24 to 48 hours; compassionate companions take turns sitting with the patient in shifts of three or four hours.

The program has about 175 volunteers in 44 communities, 'from Sandy to Hillsboro and everywhere in between,' Pfeifer says.

And it's looking for more compassionate companions. 'There are times when we could use more; not everyone is available all the time,' says Pfeifer, who continues to add new communities that the program serves, most recently St. Helens.

No One Dies Alone began in 2002 at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene. Founded by a critical care registered nurse named Sandra Clarke, who now lives in West Linn, it inspired similar programs in Portland and elsewhere in the United States.

In early 2006, Sister Kathleen Hecht of Sisters of the Holy Names introduced No One Dies Alone at Crestview Nursing and Rehabilitation in Southwest Portland. Pfeifer took it over from Hecht in 2007 and expanded the program - now run by Signature Hospice - to other care facilities in the Portland area.

The program is available to any person who is in hospice care, not just Signature Hospice, Pfeifer says. 'I'm getting phone calls from everywhere to either start the program or from potential volunteers,' he says.

'The person we're sitting with knows that somebody's there - that's the main thing about this.'

Be a Compassionate Companion

For more information about No One Dies Alone, call Pfeifer at 503-956-8255.