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No One Dies Alone matches volunteers with patients

Program seeks additional volunteers to comfort those in their final hours of life


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Pat Lach is a volunteer with No One Dies Alone, an organization devoted to caring for terminally-ill patients.Pat Lach, a trim, healthy and spry 75-year-old, has a keen understanding of mortality — of others, that is.

When it comes to limits to her own time on this mortal coil, well ...

“I can’t accept that,” she says, a smile gradually forming across her features. “Everyone is going to die, except me.”

While time will tell if Lach is onto something there, the longtime Beaverton resident is happy to help others through their final moments on Earth.

Lach serves as a “compassionate companion” volunteer with No One Dies Alone, a Signature Hospice Home Health Care-sponsored program that matches those in their final 24 to 36 hours with a person to sit by their bedside and provide comfort. Volunteers may read, hold a hand, play soothing music or perhaps pray with the patients. Vigils typically last 24 to 48 hours, with each companion assigned to a two- to four-hour shift.

Jim Pfeifer, program director for No One Dies Alone since 2007, noted the concept serves a fundamental human need when the end of life appears imminent.

“Few folks would prefer to be alone at that point,” he says. “There are two things people fear most: One is dying in pain, and another is dying alone. That’s what our volunteers do. They are there to help them through that process. One family member said, ‘It was like an angel came into the room’ to sit with their loved one. That’s our main goal, that no one dies alone.”

Range of emotions

The program, which includes roughly 200 volunteers across 70 Signature Hospice facilities in the U.S., originated to serve those without family members to rely on, but evolved to include a broader range of patients.

“We found families need a respite,” says Pfeifer, 72. “They need time away, but want someone to be with their (loved one) so they will not be alone when they take that final breath.”

Some patients, he notes, actually want to be alone.

“They don’t want their families to see them” in that state.

Pfeifer, who is looking to recruit new volunteers to No One Dies Alone by Wednesday, Sept. 10, does his best to fill special requests, and is not beyond sitting in himself when he finds a hole in the volunteer schedule.

“My oldest volunteer is 86,” he says. “She’s been with me seven years now. She’s the sweetest lady in the world. She loves to volunteer and loves to sit in with somebody.”

Volunteers report a wide range of emotions regarding their bedside commitments, which typically involve a patient who is non-responsive, or at best, minimally communicative.

“Well, it is sad, but it’s an unbelievable experience,” Pfeifer says. “Some tell me it’s a very spiritual experience. Some say it’s a very rewarding experience. Everyone has a different explanation of what it really means to them.”

Helping hand

Lach, a retired registered nurse, can’t say exactly what compels her to participate, other than it’s a powerful pull.

“I tell (Pfeifer) each time I do it that I get more than I give,” she says. “I can’t say exactly what that is, but it’s a real privilege to be part of that life arc for someone.”

Lach also volunteers at Oregon Health & Science University Medical Center as well as at the historical Pittock Mansion gate lodge in Northwest Portland. A former West Hollywood, Calif., resident, Lach continues her long-running acting mini-career through Portland-area theater productions.

Finding her nursing background comes in handy as a NODA volunteer, Lach has done everything from sitting bedside and quietly reading to talking with patients who aren’t afraid to admit they’re afraid.

“This woman I was seeing in Wilsonville, she was very afraid, terrified,” Lach recalls. “She would say, ‘Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me.’ Most of the time, you can’t really call it a conversation. Most of the time it’s minimal. I’ve learned to ask the one-answer question.”

Lach admits NODA is not the volunteer program for those seeking a quick lift of teamwork-inspired spirit.

“When somebody hears about the program and knows what it’s about, they have to follow their heart,” she says. “It isn’t for everybody.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jim Pfeifer, coordinator for the Signature Hospice program No One Dies Alone, is seeking new volunteers to sign up for training by Wednesday, Sept. 10.

Help with dying

What: No One Dies Alone, a Signature Hospice-sponsored volunteer program to assist medical patients in their final hours of life

Where: Patients in the greater Portland area, through Tigard- and Wilsonville-based Signature Hospice Home Health Care

Volunteer coordinator: Jim Pfeifer

To volunteer: Call Pfeifer at 1-800-936-4756 or email by Wednesday, Sept. 10, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Website: 4signatureservice.com/hospice/no-one-dies-alone