Life Matters Newsletter - Spring 2022
As HPCCR's longest serving volunteer, Penny Barr's commitment to patients, families, and the organization's mission is time-tested and profound.
PENNY BARR HAS SERVED FOR 30 YEARS AS A VOLUNTEER WITH HOSPICE & PALLIATIVE CARE CHARLOTTE REGION.
She is 81. But still she remembers what inspired her to find her place beside the sick and dying. It's this way with many of the 300 volunteers currently serving.
Something in their lives stirred them to answer the call.
Penny was born in Pittsburgh. Four months later, her mother left and never returned. Some kids have memories of family trips to the beach. Penny remember pulling weeds at a neighbor's house.
"My childhood wasn't memorable," she says.
When Penny was 17, a senior in high school, her father had a heart attach and died. He was 54. On the cusp of adulthood, Penny moved in with her older sister until it was time to take care of herself. She eventually married and settled in Charlotte.
In 2010, Penny lost the older of her three children, Suzanne, to lung cancer. She was 49. She died at home in Matthews on a rainy Friday night. Hospice was there at the end to comfort Suzanne and her family.
"My life," Penny says, "has been kind of a mixed situation."
Isn't it so for most of us? Life gives us the bitter and the sweet. In Penny's case, she chose to embrace the sweet. Having forged a bond with hospice during her daughter's passing, she decided to pay it forward. A notary (she worked in a law firm), Penny began volunteering with HPCCR by notarizing wills and other documents for patients and families. Over time - she's been volunteering 30 of the 44 years that HPCCR has existed - she found her place in our hospice houses. Being at the bedside of a dying person doesn't intimidate her.
"I feel like I'm supposed to be there," she says. "I feel like God is with me."
Penny currently works two hours each Friday at the Levine & Dickson Hospice House at Southminster, located at the Southminster retirement community in South Charlotte. HPCCR offers end-of-life care at six hospice houses - two in Charlotte, one in Huntersville, one in Shelby, one in Kings Mountain, and one in Clinton, SC.
First thing Penny does when she arrives at Southminster is fold laundry. "Doorbells are ringing, buzzers are going off," she says, explaining that she gets right to work so as not to be a bother to the staff. She spends the rest of her shift with patients and families. She strikes up conversations with those who find talking therapeutic. She gets a bottle of water for the thirsty. When asked, she will pray or read the Bible.
Each patient is different.
She recalls a lively concertation with a retied engineer who enjoyed talking about the latest electronic gadget. Then there was a 17-year-old girl who didn't want to talk. Penny adjusted her blankets. She offered to paint the girls fingernails. The teenager shook her head no. A hard part of Penny's work is that she doesn't always find out what happens with each patient. The outcome may be inevitable. But she wishes she could know when the time comes for those she befriended, if only for a short while.
Every story is different.
Some families are drowning in distress. Others seem at peace. Penny hopes all draw comfort from the warmth of the staff and the beauty of the hospice house, including the garden outside patients' windows.
Everyone at HPCCR is grateful to Penny, one of the two or three longest-serving volunteers in the organization's history. It's not just her abiding loyalty that sets her apart, it's her grace.
"She's humble," Director of Volunteer Services Elise Hurst says. "She's just a good, genuine person, always willing to help. She's the kind of person who goes, 'Oh, it's nothing.'"
With the six hospice houses, private homes, and retirement communities opening back up after COVID-19, more volunteers are needed to sit with patients, give families and caregivers a break, do yardwork, go to the grocery store, run other errands, work in the HPCCR office and more. Volunteers also offer pet and massage therapy. There's so much a volunteer can do. Just being a presence is often more than enough.
There were 450 volunteers before COVID-19. There are 300 on the rolls now. HPCCR would love to have 600 to 700.
Hurst hopes Penny remains one. Not to worry. She has no plans to retire.
"Hospice," Penny says, "has my number."
Visit https://www.hpccr.org/life-matters-spring-2022 to read more from our Spring 2022 Edition of the Life Matters Newsletter.