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Birches Resident Uses Her Unique Gifts as a Hospice Volunteer

Birches Assisted Living resident Dorothy Reip reflects on her 15 years as a hospice volunteer.

Clarendon Hills, IL, July 08, 2016 --( It takes a special person to become a hospice volunteer. You have to be compassionate, empathetic and brave in the face of life’s greatest challenge: death.

Birches Assisted Living resident Dorothy Reip is all of these things, which is why she has been a hospice volunteer for over 15 years.

Reip recently completed the hospice volunteer training through St. Thomas Hospital with several other members of The Birches community. The training program, which required two hours of training per week for seven weeks, finished up in May.

But this was far from Reip’s first experience with hospice training. She had already completed training programs in Chicago and Michigan, and has been dedicated to smoothing the transition from life to death for many years now.

Reip started volunteering for hospice because she saw it as a way to use her unusual talents. While most women of her generation prided themselves in more conventional abilities, like throwing a gorgeous dinner party, Reip found that she was much more akin to tasks that called upon her compassion and strength.

That’s not to say being a hospice volunteer has necessarily been easy for her. It took time and effort for her to become truly comfortable in the role.

“A lot of my friends have said, ‘I don’t know why you want to do that,’” said Reip. “But I just happen to have that kind of gift that a lot of people just don’t have. When I first started doing it, it was kind of painful. But as I did it more and more, it was easier for me.”

Of course, the thorough training she’s received has also helped her grow in her role and given her the confidence she needs to handle the difficult situations that come with the dying process. Hospice volunteers receive training in bereavement, health, safety and caring for the terminally ill. They also learn to respect all religious beliefs and forgo any judgment.

According to Reip, her husband and fellow Birches resident Ray Reip has also received hospice training in the past, and they shared a love for hospice volunteering for many years. But now, he has dementia and can no longer actively practice these skills or continue his training like she has.

Reip believes that both her and her husband’s interest in helping others transition into death came from their presence at the deathbeds of their own parents.

“We were there when all of our parents died,” said Reip “But it was a different time period, and the practices were much less evolved than they are now. There wasn’t the same level of compassion and empathy. And families weren’t given the same freedom to be with their loved ones until their dying breath.”

Reip’s longtime career as a bus driver for children with disabilities also helped prepare her for her role. She had to be compassionate but tough on a daily basis. She also had to be strong in the face of challenging behavior and situations.

But above all, her affinity and natural talent for hospice volunteering came from two simple, yet underrated traits: Her ability to remain calm and provide comfort.

One of her most cherished memories of providing comfort to a hospice patient was through a conversation she had with a former school teacher who was dying. When the woman began to question her own contribution to this world, Reip was able to help her see how great an impact she’d really had.

“This woman said to me ‘I don’t know if I’ll make it to heaven.’ And I told her that if she didn’t make it to heaven, I didn’t know who would. She was so sweet, and I reminded her of all the kids she’d helped over the years. And that really got through to her.”

With those few simple words, Reip made that woman feel safe, comforted, reassured and less afraid—which is what all good hospice volunteers do.

The Birches Assisted Living in Clarendon Hills, Ill. offers professional services to support the physical, social, intellectual and spiritual growth of the older adults who make it their home. The Birches offers purposeful programming and activities designed to promote a healthy aging lifestyle and a strong sense of community. For more information about The Birches, call 630-789-1135 or visit:
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The Birches Assisted Living
Jenny Smiechowski

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