Three Generations of Compassion

“While dad was on hospice we all had the feeling that someone cared and people were on our side. They knew what we were going through.”

By Deb VanBuren, Carris Health Hospice Volunteer Coordinator, January 3 – It started with a phone call 30 years ago from Carris Health Hospice Director, Betty Sheppard, to Wilma Boonstra in rural Raymond. “Betty called me out of the blue and said she had been given my name as a person who might be interested in taking the hospice volunteer training.” With the close of 2017, Boonstra completes her 30th year as a Carris Health Hospice volunteer.

But it’s what led up to that phone call that captures the true essence of why Carris Health Hospice has benefited from Wilma’s role as a volunteer for three decades — and now three generations of compassion as Wilma’s daughter, Kathi, and granddaughter, Amanda, also align themselves with the Carris Health Hospice program as volunteers and staff, respectfully. During an afternoon coffee at a table adorned in holiday fashion and loaded with plates of goodies, it all came to light—these women share more than DNA, but spiritual gifts—the gifts of service and mercy, coupled with hearts of generosity and compassion.

Wilma remembers the phone call and states, “I said I would take the training if I could still have the opportunity to say no. But, I guess I said yes! I have been a patient and bereavement volunteer for 30 years.”

Before the training, Wilma says she really didn’t know what hospice was about as this “end-of-life” concept of care was new to the health care arena. Carris Heath Hospice was only 5 years old at the time and they were growing their volunteer base as the hospice program grew and its geographical service area expanded.

“I put on a lot of miles,” she remembers as Wilma has recorded traveling nearly 3,000 miles as a Carris Health Hospice volunteer—traveling up to Belgrade, Willmar, Milan, and Clara City. “At one point I remember having 5 patients at one time!” During her tenure, Wilma has had contact with over 166 patients and given 450 hours of volunteer time. “What I learned is that it is best just to listen—the patients want to do the talking,” Wilma shares as she reflects on what she has learned as a volunteer. “But they always like my goodies,” she adds as she is sure to bring along baked goods during her visits.

Wilma’s daughter, Kathi, also felt the need to get involved in Carris Health Hospice and is currently serving as a member of the Willmar Community Advisory Board. Kathi shares, “Mom has been so involved and my daughter, Amanda, just started working for the program and I thought it would be good to give back, too. I knew about hospice but I really learned more when my dad (Wilma’s husband, Stan) was on the program during his final 7 days. While dad was on hospice we all had the feeling that someone cared and people were on our side. They knew what we were going through.” Kathi has been a member of the advisory board for two years and shares, “I have learned so much and see how many generous people are out there who volunteer and raise funds for Carris Health Hospice.”

Grandma Wilma giggles as she calculates that she started volunteering the same year Amanda was born! Now, Amanda serves as a staff member at Carris Health Hospice as a social worker in the Willmar satellite. Amanda worked in child protection for Yellow Medicine County prior to working for Carris Health Hospice as she knew she wanted to start working part-time as they considered raising a family. “I really like the fact that my grandma, my mom and I are all involved in hospice—we are all very proud of that. We can talk about hospice without using names and understand what we are all going through. Our whole family thinks positively of Carris Health Hospice,” she openly shares. And it is bittersweet that on the day their husband/dad/grandfather transitioned from hospice to heaven, his granddaughter, Amanda, was delivering her second son, Grady, into the world one floor apart at Carris Health Memorial Hospital. “It’s a circle of life,” they share with heartfelt sentiment. Amanda shares her respect for and appreciation of the groundwork of compassion and caring for her mom and grandmother have modeled for her. “People say I’m like my mom and that makes me feel good,” Amanda admits. “My mom and grandma have always been involved in their community and are caring for people in their community. They are connected to people they know and are giving back and I’m proud of that!”