VNA Volunteers Spends Time Visiting Hospice Patients

By Paula Grubbs, Butler Eagle Community Editor

When Lillian Griffith was preparing to retire from her position with the county 19 years ago, she noticed an article in the Butler Eagle on hospice volunteer work.

She jumped in with both feet back then, and the result of those almost two decades of work resulted in the Griffiths being named Health Care Workers of the Year by the Butler County Health Care Consortium for their work as hospice volunteers with VNA Hospice.

The consortium presented 29 local health care workers and students with awards at its 7th annual Health Care Worker Recognition event Wednesday, March 13, at The Atrium.

The Griffiths, both 80, say they are happy to be recognized, but that’s not why they have volunteered all these years and continue to volunteer.

“I tell people that as long as you’re breathing, you can do God’s work,” Lillian said.

Lillian recalled receiving training at Community Alliance Church back in 2005, and recalls her very first patient in VNA Hospice care, which means those with an average of six months or less to live.

“The son and daughter-in-law were the caregivers,” Lillian said. “They would go to breakfast or get groceries and they wouldn’t have to worry about Mom.”

When she began her retirement career as a hospice volunteer in 2005, most of Lillian’s patients were in their homes.

She said that scenario has reversed, and most are in health care settings now.

David often drove her to her hospice visits in the beginning and waited in the car until she was finished 30 minutes to 1.5 hours later.

He also helped her shop for patients and performed other small tasks needed by those Lillian visited.

“Somebody finally said ‘You might as well get certified, because you’re doing it anyhow,” David said.

He started with VNA as a hospice volunteer in 2013.

“Listening is the most important skill,” David said of the typical session with someone in hospice. “Lots of times they vent, and a lot of times they’re sad.”

Lillian agreed, and said a current patient of hers is realizing she will never leave the medical facility where she now resides.

“You acknowledge that’s where they are now,” she said.

David is often requested by veterans in hospice care, as he served in the Navy from 1964 to 1968 and understands how to communicate with vets.

“They only like to tell their stories to another vet,” he said. “They might have been in a concentration camp and never talked about it before.”

He said a recent veteran had a major stroke, making it difficult for him to talk.

“If they can’t communicate, you ask yes or no questions so they can nod or shake their head,” he said. “It was really hard to see him struggle.”

David and Lillian go the extra mile with their patients, taking small gifts or favorite foods.

David hung a birdhouse outside the window of one patient last week so she could enjoy the cheerful sight of birds flitting about.

“You always get more out of it than you give,” Lillian said.

She said the couple does feel sadness when a patient dies, and they sometimes go to their viewing or funeral.

“You do form a bond with them,” Lillian said.

“But you know it’s inevitable,” David said. “My hardest case was a 15-year-old.”

Mary Campbell, of Slippery Rock Township, said the Griffiths visited her mother, Margaret Drobezko, at Newhaven Court at Clearview in Center Township before she died in February.

Campbell said her mother was not a social butterfly during her life and was unsure whether she wanted visitors when she was in hospice.

But when Lillian shared her Polish background, Drobezko, who was of Czech descent, took a shine to her.

“They talked about food they would make,” Campbell said.

She said the Griffiths also brought candy and nutroll to her mother.

“It was something that my mom looked forward to,” Campbell said. “She loved the Griffiths.”

She said the couple visited every Wednesday, and spent anywhere from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours with Drobezko.

“It was wonderful to see my mom happy,” Campbell said. “She would always relate to me what they talked about.”

But she said there is one facet of the Griffiths’ style of communication that especially impressed her.

“They treated my mom with dignity,” Campbell said. “Even though she had a little bit of dementia, she was still on top of things.”

Christie Rudolph, community liaison volunteer coordinator at VNA, said all volunteers can take advantage of counseling if need be.

She said the VNA often receives cards from bereaved families thanking them for sending the Griffiths to visit their loved one or give them some respite.

“They are so compassionate, and they go above and beyond for their patients,” Rudolph said.

She said in addition to bringing cookies and candies the patient enjoys, the Griffiths will read to them or do anything to improve a patient’s day.

“The families just love them,” Rudolph said.

From day one

The Griffiths were born one day apart in the same hospital, and were delivered by the same doctor.

Although they went to the same high school, they didn’t start dating until David’s brother fixed them up on a blind date.

“We do everything together,” David said. “Where you see one, you see both of us.”

“We support each other in everything,” Lillian said. “It’s a matter of continuing that support and deepening our faith.”

The couple, who are members of First United Methodist Church in Butler, were surprised when Rudolph told them they were recipients of the award. Rudolph nominated them.

“It makes you feel good that you had a small part in helping (patients) and their families,” Lillian said of serving as a hospice volunteer.

She hopes her award will increase the number of medical volunteers throughout the county.

“I hope that after people read about what we are doing, they’ll say ‘I can do that,’” Lillian said.