Hospice volunteers ensure no one takes the journey alone

Allison Smith

Lois Eisele plays Ungame with one of her patients, Spencer Hickman, at the Maplewood Care Center in Streetsboro. After choosing a card, the players answer self-expression questions such as “If happiness was a color, what would it be?” Brittany Ankrom | S

Credit: DKS Editors

At least once a week, Lois Eisley goes to Maplewood Care Center to visit an elderly man named Spencer Hickman because he’s dying. Lois doesn’t have any relation to him, but volunteers her time to keep him company through the Robinson Visiting Nurse and Hospice program.

Spencer is 88 years old. His feet are bandaged, and he is confined to a wheel chair. You have to speak up slightly when you talk to him, but he has a wonderful sense of humor and is a very sweet man. You can tell he appreciates Lois coming to visit him.

“She talks a lot,” Spencer said when asked about what he likes best about Lois.

Lois jokes around with him, too.

“I don’t pick on you too much, do I?” she asked him.

“No,” Spencer said slowly, and smiled.

Lois plays games with him, takes him for walks outside, tells him stories and reads him poetry. A game they both like is Ungame, where players read questions from a card to spark conversation.

“If happiness was a color, what would it be?” Lois reads out loud. Spencer says blue, but maybe purple.

Lois said she likes trying to make Spencer laugh. She tells him short stories and reads him poetry, which she was surprised he enjoyed.


If you are interested in volunteering for Robinson Visiting Nurse and Hospice, contact Bernadette Thomas at 330-297-8899.

“I found it, in the beginning, was hard for me to do guys because I don’t do sports and you know, stuff like that,” Lois said. “You’d be surprised how many men like poetry read to them. That was always a surprise to me. I’ve read a few to Spencer, and he’s liked them.”

Lois enjoys giving patients foot massages, but because Spencer’s feet are bandaged, she can’t do it for him.

“I don’t get into all of his medical diagnosis, but they keep taking off little pieces of it because I think he’s got poor circulation or blood clots or something,” Lois said. “I’m just very careful not to bump them.”

Spencer’s primary caregiver is his son Jerry. Spencer has two sons, a grandson and can’t remember how many step-grandchildren he has. Both of his sons are truck drivers. Spencer looked very proud when he announced one of his sons just got a certificate for reaching one billion miles.

Jerry was recently diagnosed with colon cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy, Lois said. He is often too busy to visit his father, and that is why Lois offers some of her time to spend it with Spencer.

Lois said she has been with Hospice for about four years. She started out as a nurse’s aide but didn’t like that she couldn’t spend one-on-one time with the patients, so she switched to being a respite volunteer.

Bernadette Thomas, the Hospice volunteer coordinator at Robinson Visiting Nurse and Hospice, says a respite volunteer like Lois is meant to provide relief for the primary caregiver of the patient.

“Those volunteers, their goal, is to give the caregivers a break,” Bernadette said. “That has hundreds of varieties, there’s going to be caregivers that need to go to doctors appointments themselves, need to go to the grocery and pharmacy, need to go to somebody’s graduation, need to go to church, or maybe they need to take a shower and go to bed and sleep for a while so they can be relieved of that constant care-giving role.”

Lois said she began volunteering for Hospice because when her mother had cancer, Hospice took over and really helped out.

“It’s kind of hard to deal with someone you love dying,” Lois said. “They were so marvelous, they helped us through it, so I just kind of figured I owed it to them to devote a little time.”

Bernadette said Lois has a way of approaching people that is almost magical, and you can tell when you spend time with her. She is incredibly warm and inviting. You can tell she enjoys working with people and making them happy.

“She will find what that person’s interest is and she will bring that out,” Bernadette said. “There can be this person laying there that doesn’t want to talk about anything, but Lois will find a way of connecting with them. And it might just be connecting by sitting in silence, but she’s comfortable doing it, but they love her.”

Lois said she’s helped more than 50 dying residents in the last four years. She tries not to get too attached, but she doesn’t want to get desensitized.

She said she has only gotten really attached to two people. The first was a woman who turned out to have given blood to Lois’ father when he had an operation in the ’50s.

“When they told me that I was going to be seeing this lady, and I said, ‘Well, what’s she like?’ And they said ‘Well, she’s like French bread, she’s crusty on the outside, but she’s soft on the inside,'” Lois said. “So I go to meet her, and she says ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What are you doing?’ and I mean, I was being interrogated.”

Another turned out to be a former classmate of hers in the seventh grade. She remembers she didn’t like him when they were classmates.

“The first time I met him was in seventh grade, and my name was Lois, and he turned around, we were in line because we went from class to class, and he said ‘Oh, Lo-Ass!’ And he called me Lo-Ass from then on,” Lois said.

The woman died on St. Patrick’s Day. Lois says she remembers it was a beautiful day – a good day for her friend to pass on. Her classmate died about two years ago.

“I try not to get too attached,” Lois said. “I’m sad sometimes.”

Lois has a family of her own. Usually she visits more people, but she likes to keep her summer pretty free because she wants to spend time with her husband and grandchildren.

“I think the best thing in my life right now are all my grandchildren. I’m getting lots of them. In fact, I’m making lots of baby blankets-I’m expecting a great-granddaughter,” Lois said. “I baby-sit a lot.”

There are other parts to Hospice aside from helping the terminally ill, Bernadette said. Hospice is involved in fundraising; some people sew bibs and patient gowns. A group of women sew memory bears out of loved-ones’ clothing. There are even professional cosmetologists who donate their time to give haircuts.

Lois said she doesn’t do anything medical or deal with personal hygiene, she just likes to spend time with patients.

“I like this, you know, I feel that nobody should die alone,” Lois said. “When the family needs help, somebody should be there.”

Contact principal reporter Allison Smith at [email protected].