Compassionate companions make sure ‘No One Dies Alone’ at Sacred Heart

The 1,000 volunteers at Providence Health Care have a variety of different jobs and responsibilities; from wheeling patients out as they head home to delivering meals to their rooms.

There is a small group, though, that perform a task that many would think is impossible, sitting at the bedsides of those who have no one else as they transition through the dying process.

One of them is Tom Barnhart. For so long he feared death.

“I thought here’s the perfect opportunity because whenever I feel uneasy about something, I move towards it,” shared Tom.

Ask volunteer Connie Christilaw about it and you get a smile.

Connie shared, ” it just grabbed me! I knew this was meant for me.”

Both Tom and Connie say the business of dying is their calling, as volunteers at Providence Hospital’s No One Dies Alone program. About once a month, they find themselves called to the bedside of a complete stranger who has no one and they sit with them as they die.

“Sometimes we get to know them a little bit,” said Tom.

Connie added, “sometimes you can hold a hand, sometimes there is music to be played, sometimes you just sit.”

Occasionally it can be funny.

“I had one gentleman – his whole family was here saying goodbye and then they all left and we were with him and we were with him and two days later he looks at me and goes ‘I thought it would be faster than this!'” Connie explained.

Other times moving beyond words. Barnhart remembered the final moments of sitting with a spiritual man as a harpist played for them.

“I couldn’t speak. The sense in the room was so overpowering.”

But for these volunteers, never sad.

“I have not yet had a situation where I needed any counseling,” shared Tom.

Tom says reflection after each vigil helps him.

“I turn off the radio and its opportunity for me to think about how blessed I am and all the positive things in that person’s life.”

For Connie who saw so much pain during her career, its a privilege to ease someone on their way.

“It is such an honor to be with this person, it’s very special.”