Irene Southwick has devoted her heart to Suncoast Hospice and our community for nearly two decades. Her extraordinary volunteer support goes beyond measure – from her peaceful presence for patients to comforting support for families to cherished memorial pieces made for survivors, and more.
Now, in the midst of her own illness, Southwick continues to fulfill her beloved purpose serving our mission. Read more about her work and impact in part seven of our 40th Anniversary Reflections series celebrating Suncoast Hospice’s 40 years of life-changing care.
Q&A: Suncoast Hospice Volunteer Irene Southwick
What’s your background?
I’m from Michigan. We moved here in 1974 and have seen many changes in our community. My first job was working for Capital Airlines and my second job was working for the school system in the adult education department.
Why did you join Suncoast Hospice?
I’ve always worked with people. I was thinking about changing directions and I took Stephen Ministry leadership training courses. Our church was under a lot of changes and a couple of women said they were going to take the hospice training and asked if I’d be interested. Little did I know, they really wanted me to drive. I said, sure I’d do it.
How have you provided support to patients and families?
I started out doing grief support calls and learned an awful lot. It was a whole new ballgame for me but because I had worked so much with people, I could hear in their voices when they started getting well. From there it just blossomed. I was happy to be busy and help everybody.
Most of what I did was working with patients and families. I loved that. I did calls for a home team. I did a lot of patient and family care, including 11th-hour visits (now called transitions visits, which involved sitting with patients in their final hours of life). I took patients to the doctors and occasionally shopped for them. Many times I found that the caregivers needed more care than the patients.
I’ve made a lot of memory quilts, maybe 50 or 60 over the years. I get the most beautiful notes from the survivors about how healing it is to have the quilts made out of their loved ones’ clothing. There was one lady that got a memory pillow and the rest of the family got memory quilts made by me. I remember her saying, “For the first time this morning when I got up, it wasn’t the first thing I thought of,” and that’s real healing. I also made little wraps and hooded sacks for babies who were stillborn or died immediately after birth.
I now have cancer and can’t be around people who might give me any type of infection. So I’m doing tuck-in calls and writing bereavement cards. And every once in a while I can do an 11th-hour visit. I don’t have an awful lot of energy, which I miss. But this gives me one day a week to get away and I’m doing something worthwhile.
What does hospice mean to you?
It has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. From what I’ve experienced over these years, it makes me feel very comfortable with what’s going on in my own life. I don’t have any fear. I feel very educated. It makes me feel confident.
I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the greatest nurses, aides and volunteers. When I was sick, my coordinators and some of the volunteers came to visit me. It really meant so much to me. I still have people saying prayers for me.
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