From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Hospice volunteers’ ministry leads to growth in faith

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the FEb. 6, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Judy O’Malley (left) and Maggie Albo, members of St. Mary Parish in Spokane, were honored recently for their volunteer work with Hospice. (IR photo)

Maggie Albo and Judy O’Malley have a number of things in common. They both live in the Spokane Valley and are members of St. Mary Parish. They are both alumna of Holy Names Academy – they graduated 10 years apart.

The two women are also Hospice volunteers and were each honored recently with a special award for their work in the organization.

O’Malley, who has been a Hospice volunteer for over 11 years, was presented with the Distinguished Service Award. Albo, with hospice for over three years, was given the Spirit of Hospice award.

Albo and O’Malley were nominated for their awards by Hospice staff members. A third woman, Jean Hein of Spokane, was also honored; she was presented the Special Project award. Hein is a volunteer who works in the Hospice office.

O’Malley, who has lived in the Spokane Valley all her life, got acquainted with Hospice when she went to Tacoma to help care for a friend who was dying of cancer. The Hospice workers there taught O’Malley what to do in caring for her friend — “they were like angels out of the sky” — and she knew she wanted to work for the organization one day. After she returned home, she read a newspaper article about Hospice which asked for volunteers and O’Malley signed on.

Albo laughed as she remembered when she started with Hospice: “I was tricked into it,” she said. Someone she knew asked if she would give them a ride to a Hospice introductory meeting for chaplains. Once she got there, she said, “I was hooked.”

Both Albo and O’Malley agree that they are privileged to serve the dying and their families. “They’re very accepting,” said O’Malley. “To go into someone’s home as a stranger and they ... trust you to do the right thing for them and their families, it’s so precious to be able to fill that need...”

Albo echoed O’Malley’s thoughts. “I feel really privileged to be so intimate (with clients) ... at a time when they are the most vulnerable.”

Both have witnessed the change that often comes to the dying. Albo called it “awe-inspiring” and the work of the Holy Spirit. “There’s a transparency that happens, a sense of peace and love as they surrender in a holy way.”

Said O’Malley, “It’s like an infusion of grace.”

Their faith has grown — “by leaps and bounds,” said Albo — in their Hospice volunteerism. “My faith is no longer a hope,” she said as O’Malley nodded in agreement. “It’s a certainty.”

Another certainty that Albo and O’Malley share is that of their ministry. O’Malley said people sometimes ask her about Hospice: “ ‘How can you do that?’ I answer by saying, ‘How can I not?”

Albo agreed, using a definition of ministry given to her by a friend: “Ministry is something you cannot not be doing.”

Hospice ministry takes a variety of forms.

O’Malley stays with clients as she is asked, often as a fill-in for another volunteer. Sometimes her time with a client allows the client’s caregiver to meet their own needs, such as medical appointments. She also helps with “booth work” at fairs and other events.

O’Malley especially likes helping with the Hospice Tree of Remembrance in December, which is located at the STA Plaza in downtown Spokane.

Albo is a chaplain, which puts her Hospice volunteering on a slightly different track than that of other volunteers. She will occasionally get called out at night and is often asked to do the funeral services for people who are not formal members of a church. She also fills in for the Rev. Kathy Cooper, an Episcopal priest who is the director of the nine Hospice chaplains.

O’Malley sees her Hospice work as an expression and an extension of her Catholic faith and upbringing. “My parents were caring people who reached out to help other people. I’ve always felt a calling to some type of ministry.”

Albo said as a Catholic she “did all the right stuff. But I never had a deep faith until my experience with MS.” She was diagnosed with multiple schlerosis 11 years ago. From what she called a “terrifying experience” of waking up with her feet and soon her body up to her nose going numb, she slowly developed a spirituality that showed her what was important. “I learned there was more to faith and more to God.” Now she can say her disease is the “greatest gift of my life.”

Albo found her Catholic heritage blessed in another way: “I’ve come to know and appreciate how rich our Catholic tradition and rites are. There’s so much there; there’s such a depth.”

Albo and O’Malley encourage anyone interested to volunteer for Hospice. The requirements are few: volunteers must be over age 18 and must wait a year after the death of a close family member.

Currently Hospice has over 200 volunteers; director is Jim Edwards. The Hospice phone number is (509) 456-0438.

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