Debra Walling answers a calling to serve and uplift our community. She has dedicated more than two decades volunteering at Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health.
Through the years, she has given lots of loving support to our patients and families facing the end of life and grief, as well as organizational and fundraising support. Recently she became even more involved as a perinatal loss doula volunteer. In this specialized role, she provides advocacy and support for mothers who endure the heartbreaking tragedies of a miscarriage or death of a baby before or after birth.
Read more about her work and impact in part eight of our 40th Anniversary Reflections series celebrating Suncoast Hospice’s 40 years of life-changing care.
Q&A: Suncoast Hospice Volunteer Debra Walling
What’s your background?
I’m originally from Virginia. I worked for some very big companies in Virginia. I followed my sister down here and then she moved to Hawaii. I found a job, worked and got divorced. I worked as an office manager/administrative assistant for the petroleum industry and an electronic company. I enjoyed it.
I remarried and we’ve been together for 25 years. My husband has a business and I quit my job. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to work, which allows me to volunteer, pursue my passions of writing and painting and tend to my dad.
Why did you choose to volunteer?
It was the need for volunteers along with my desire to give a helping hand to serve, love and care for our fellow men, women and children.
I did a little bit of everything. I served as an ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor, a Gulf Coast Community Care big sister and with The Salvation Army; did clean-up after hurricanes; worked as an usher at The Palladium; cooked for the homeless; and typed braille manuals.
Then I thought to lend a hand in death and dying. I didn’t know anyone personally who had hospice. I can offer a shoulder to lean upon and an ear to listen. There’s a place for everybody really.
How have you supported patients, families and mothers?
The experiences are very up close and personal with the patients I’ve been with. Every patient has expressed in the end that there’s nothing more that matters than having a loving presence, even if it’s a stranger. All of the differences melt away and they can talk and tell their stories. That’s important in offering the families and patients the most comfort.
Perinatal loss has a whole new set of emotions and experiences. With the moms, the security, human touch, comfort and time make a difference. I’m there to offer anything I can for them, to listen and to try to find the information they want. I had three of my own pregnancy losses. It would’ve been such comfort and healing knowing that the perinatal loss support was available.
I’ve enjoyed my experiences with the patients and the moms and hopefully I’ve done something for them.
What does hospice mean to you?
It does make me think of a quote – “Be a lamp, or lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd.” (Jalaluddin Rumi). I realize the meaning of my service and that human connection to provide encouragement through times of despair.
Another thing I like is to give life a meaning. From what I’ve been exposed to and a part of, I think hospice and Empath Health give just that to the patients and the families. I hope and pray for their continued success as a nonprofit that cares for people in so many ways.
What lessons have you learned?
I’ve learned from patients how to embrace life more and to reach out to others.
What has kept you here so long?
I’ve had a great group of people support me. I stand behind the code of ethics in care for our patients and families. In hospice, there’s a need to love, care and support. I do my duty to help others.
I’ve written a couple of poems about my patients. We can learn so much if we just stop and listen to somebody for who that person is. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything that I’ve had my hands in at hospice. It has been a journey. It has been a good experience.
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