SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA) — No family, no friends, no pets … you are alone and you’re dying. What do you do?
This is where “Circle of Life” could be an answer.
It is the largest non-profit hospice provider in Northwest Arkansas and the agency serves end-of-life care for those who may be alone or have a family. It’s where a team of employees make the dying process a bit more seamless.
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Circle of Life Volunteer Services Manager Susan Parish oversees 150 volunteers at the agency’s two locations in Benton and Washington Counties. This is where she has worked for the last six years and two have been as a volunteer, but the agency has more than a work connection for her. “My mom stayed here [when she was dying],” said Parish. That was in 2011 and what impressed her the most about dealing with her mom’s impending death was the care Circle of Life offered. “As a daughter, it was the respect,” said Parish. “The individuality, and just watching how much they [personnel/staff] cared.”
Volunteer Karen Strassle also chose Circle of Life — initially, not to volunteer but for her dad. In the late 1990s, her father was in the final sunset of his life. “I was raised with the respect of the dying process,” said Strassle, “and I, like Susan, appreciated the way the staff cared.”
Parish makes sure the volunteers know the dying person’s needs or requests. “Some just want a person there, they may want silence, music, they may not want to be touched, it could be a cultural setting.” She has a spreadsheet and updates when volunteers are available or what task they prefer to do and what patient’s request.
Strassle volunteers up to five hours a week. She spends time on the phone calling families, or caregivers, to make sure they are being served or are in need of any type of emotional support. She hand-writes bereavement cards for those who are in mourning. She has also been on the giving end for the end of someone’s life. “I sit and hold their hand … within hours of the person’s death,” said Strassle. She has never been with a person when they die but has been close enough.
The dying process takes a team.
There are social workers, nurses, doctors, chaplain(s) … and volunteers. This is what starts the “No One Dies Alone (NODA)” process where there are 24 beds available at each location.
The organization is not faith-based but is there to serve patients. “You enter a room and you have one chance to get it right,” said Circle of Life Bereavement and Spiritual Care Manager Allison Wright. “There is no agenda when it comes to dying.”
There are patients who are days old and some very old. No one has ever been turned away. “The last thing a person needs to worry about is cost,” said Parish. Money is not a factor and patients can come from a hospital, from home, or a family who needs a respite from caring for their loved one.
“No one dies alone, we let people know we’re there,” said Wright.
Established in 1992, Circle of Life is the largest non-profit hospice provider in Northwest Arkansas, according to its website. The agency serves end-of-life care throughout Benton, Washington, Carroll and Madison counties. Circle of Life’s bereavement team is comprised of trained professionals who support those struggling with grief and loss. They offer a variety of support groups, grief classes, and workshops to assist those who have experienced a loss. The agency is fully accredited and certified by the Arkansas Department of Health.