LEADS FORUM: Compassion and care at the end of life

Shenell Hinton, Director of Nursing, FRMC Inpatient Rehab and Sleep Lab. Member, Leadership
Sandusky Register Staff
May 13, 2010


Shenell Hinton, Director of Nursing, FRMC Inpatient Rehab and Sleep Lab.

Member, Leadership Erie County Class of 2010

Can you imagine growing older without the support of loved ones and friends? What if decisions are needed regarding your health care and you cannot make those decisions for yourself? What would happen next? Who will be there to do it for you? There are immediate openings for guardians who are willing to touch the lives of the many Erie County residents who need services just like these.

Guardianship services are provided to adults 55 and older who have been deemed incompetent by probate court and have no appropriate family members who can care for them. As a guardian, you become the legal representative and voice of the individual in need, advocating for their care and comfort at a time when they can no longer speak for themselves.

I have served as a volunteer guardian for Erie County residents for the past four years through Catholic Charities, Adult Advocacy Services. The mission of the organization is to connect volunteers with residents who are aging, have multiple illnesses with no familial support to help them make decisions regarding their care. For example, if you were in need of major surgery but were unable to speak, a volunteer guardian would serve as your representative to ensure proper care and treatment during the procedure. A volunteer guardian also serves to carry out all end of life wishes when there are no family members available.

My personal experience as a guardian has been a truly rewarding one. My first experience as a guardian was sharing time with a fun-loving vet, Larry. As a resident in the Ohio Veteran' Home, Larry had no family support. In fact, his last documented visit had been over two years when I became his representative. A head injury caused him to have difficulties with speech. Unable to speak clearly or make any decision for himself, Larry needed volunteer guardianship. After I took over his care, Larry became like a part of the family, a second father to me and adopted grandfather to my children. For more than two years, I was able to spend time with Larry. My family enjoyed bringing him gifts, pictures, drawings, etc. With Larry's wonderful smile, I often wondered where his family was and why they had decided to abandon him. Because he could not communicate clearly, I couldn't get any answers from him.

As time passed, Larry's health began to decline, it was nearing the end. Larry had decided, prior to being unable to speak, to not have any extraordinary measures taken at the end of his life. He wanted to be kept comfortable only. It was at this time that I really longed to find his family. I thought: Someone wants to see Larry before he dies; I've got to find his family.

In the end of his life, I was there to hold Larry's hand as he took his last breath. What a blessing to have someone there, to not be alone. Funeral plans were made. I placed his obituary in multiple papers, in hopes his long-lost family might respond and attend the services. I was able to obtain an address for Larry's twin brother -- who lived in the same neighborhood in which I grew up. How ironic, I thought.

I traveled to Cleveland and got up the nerve to knock on this brother's door. I told him who I was and what I had been doing for his brother. Of course, I also had to break the news of Larry's death. He warmly invited me in to hear the story. He stated his health and inability to drive as the reason for his absence in Larry's life. I spent some time with him and learned many more stories about Larry, including the fact that he had four children.

During the funeral services, one of Larry's daughters showed. It was very difficult for her, as she had not seen her father in several years. The one amazing fact was that I resembled this daughter. I found comfort in thinking that maybe all this time, Larry thought I was his daughter. So, even though he did not have his biological family at the end of his life, I truly believe he thought he did.

There are hundreds of adults who need people like you and me to come into their lives and play such an important part. Giving is a privilege. Take advantage of it. If we have it in our hearts to give, it pours out through our works and the rewards are like a wealth beyond any dreams you have ever known.

Take the time to care for someone like Larry. You too can make a difference in a life. Material things fade and cannot be taken with you in death, but what you give in life will always remain yours and come back to you a hundredfold.

Are you going to be there for our elderly? Take the next step, become a volunteer guardian.