Many people who've given near-death experience testimonies report seeing a light and feeling comforted. Richard Morrow Sr., who died of brain cancer in September 1993, saw a cottage.
"Dick was in the hospital in intensive care after surgery," said his wife, Alice Morrow Dorazio, who now volunteers with Hospice of the Valley. "He said to me, 'I saw her.'"
"I knew immediately who he meant," Alice said. "My brother's wife died in December 1991. Dick said he saw her near a little white cottage with beautiful flowers. She came to him and talked to him.
"Everyone is afraid of dying because of the unknown, but deep down, honestly, I can't wait," Alice said, "because I know where I'm going."
Now, she shares that comfort with other terminal patients.
Hospice of the Valley provides medical care and support to terminally ill patients and their families. Usually in the last six months of life, as diagnosed by a physician, Hospice enters the picture with the goal of enhancing quality of life. Pain management, bathing, lending companionship -- all may be part of Hospice. Alice, who lives in Austintown, is one of 200 volunteers.
Twenty-two years: Lori Brennan of Poland is another. Lori joined Hospice in 1979, encouraged to volunteer by her husband, who was on the original board for Hospice of the Valley.
"He thought I would be interested because of all the cancer in my family," Lori said. Her grandmother died of liver cancer, her mother of ovarian cancer, and her father and brother of colon cancer.
"Lori has had hundreds of patients," said Kathy Gordon, hospice director of volunteers.
Lori's first remains her most memorable.
"Bobbie was very inspirational to me," Lori said. "She had tremendous faith. At first, she was able to go out. As she got worse, I would sit and read, and she'd sleep. I sat with her Monday mornings for a year. She had four kids and our kids were together at high school. She wanted to live till her daughter graduated college. She died three months [after she graduated]."
One might expect such volunteerism to come at a cost. Knowing your charge will likely die might make even someone devoted to volunteering look elsewhere.
Not so, said Alice, who has been on both the giving and receiving ends of Hospice. Working with Hospice makes her happy.
Normal but exceptional: Kathy notes the dichotomy of the Hospice volunteers. "They are very normal people. They don't have the pathology to be needed. They treat volunteering as part of their daily lives."
On the other hand, Kathy calls them "exceptional people." She said, "Sometimes they sit with patients when they die, and they don't have to do that. Many came to us, as Alice did, through the program."
Alice's husband was sick a year and a half before he died at 50. He had two brain surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation pellets placed into his head.
"The social worker from Hospice [Sally Kulisz] became a very good friend, coming in three or four times a week. She would tell me what was going to happen. She brought happiness to my husband before he died," Alice said.
When Alice retired, she went to Hospice to be a clerical volunteer. But when a family friend needed Hospice, Alice decided patient care was meant to be.
"Once there, I see her laying in bed with tubes and I remember her as she was -- healthy, young. And it's heartbreaking," Alice admitted. "Then, she smiles for me. Then it's not as hard as I thought it would be. I feel happy."
"And that's typical," Kathy insisted. "When someone is a heart and soul volunteer, they come away happy."
If you're interested in joining Alice and Lori, and volunteers Elma Ramsey, Lillian Divelbiss, and the winner of the 2000 Ohio volunteer award, Fred Appel, at Hospice, you can call Kathy at (330) 788-1992.