1/06/19

Volunteer spotlight: A contagious smile when it matters most

What is hospice care? Maybe that seems like a silly question, but some people have never heard of it. At Carle, hospice care helps terminally ill patients be in control of their choices and helps them maintain the quality of their life. Adding in the security of familiar surroundings and the involvement of family ultimately provides invaluable emotional reassurance to the patient.

Part of that care involves volunteers, and Carle is in need of compassionate individuals. For a few hours a day, you can help make someone’s last moments some of their best moments.

  • Activities include listening to concerns, being a support person, keeping the patient company, writing a letter or reading to the patient.
  • Interested? Learn more about hospice volunteering.

Manju Basu, a retired teacher and Carle Hospice volunteer, never heard the word “hospice” until she came to America. She grew up in Calcutta and was the ninth child out of 12, so learning to share everything was in her blood – good days and bad days.

Basu arrived in Charleston, IL, in January 1973. She had married a general surgeon, and his work brought them there. That same summer and, thanks to a mere suggestion, Basu began volunteering.

Her new life in Charleston came with some challenges.

“My husband was always busy working. I couldn’t drive, cook or understand the accents,” Basu said. “But I’ve always had great faith. I came to a new country and had to do everything on my own. Now, everyone loves my cooking!”

Those challenges were nothing because of Basu’s contagious smile. She made friends everywhere she went, talking with strangers – now friends – for hours on end. Those people helped Basu by driving her around and introducing her to others. 

Volunteer time

Fast forward to 2000. When Basu received her hospice training, she sat with patients for two or three days a week. It was never easy. Still today, the time with these patients stayed with her.

“This woman I went to visit, the second she saw me enter the room, she would say, ‘Please come to me, honey, and give me a hug.’ It was my smile. Everyone likes smiling,” Basu said. “Someone once told me, ‘Every time I see you, I feel so happy.’

And Basu won’t take any credit for the volunteer work she does.

“It’s His credit. He is in everybody,” she said.

She’s also thankful to her father because he said, “If you had to die or be afraid, do it only once. If you are afraid all the time, then it means you don’t believe in yourself or give yourself credit. You are a human being, one of the best creations in the whole world, and there’s no one else like you.”

“If my dad had not told me that along with some other truths, I don’t think I’d be living in this country all by myself so strongly,” Basu said. “All my friends call me ‘water’ because I don’t complain, and I can adjust to anything.” 

It’s clear her father’s words left such an impact on her, which shows in her work serving others.

So rewarding

What does she want you to know about being a hospice volunteer?

“It’s one of the most rewarding experiences in your entire life. Even if the person you are taking care of won’t live long. It is painful to hear you don’t have to come back anymore, that he or she is gone,” Basu said. “At the same time, it makes me feel so happy too. Why? Because at least this person knew someone cared and loved them.”

But it’s not just the volunteers like Basu who comfort others at Carle.

The family of one patient whose health was declining rapidly shared this.

“Although there were hundreds of patients in your facility, my family was treated if we were the only ones. Your nurses and techs not only checked on my uncle, but they checked on the rest of us each time they came in the room,” Rick Wolfe said.

“Your staff consoled, hugged, put their hand on a shoulder. Whatever the moment needed, they did it. My uncle passed away in peace and comfort. For that alone, I can’t thank you enough.”