Bob Geary is a volunteer hospice worker and bereavement counselor with the Home Nursing Agency out of Clymer. He recently sat down with Gazette staffer Margaret Harper to discuss the services he provides and the lives he touches through hospice visits.
Question: How long have you volunteered with the Home Nursing Agency?
Answer: Just a little over a year.
Question: Why did you want to do that service?
Answer: I’m more or less a people person. I like to meet different people and get to know them. There was an ad down at Tate’s on the bulletin board for hospice volunteers, so I called. I had to go through fingerprints, FBI clearance, TB shots and then I went through three days of training. ... It was about the first part of May of last year I got my first hospice patient.
Question: About how many have you had since then?
Answer: I’ve had four that I have gone to visit, and right now I have four that I send cards and notes to.
Question: What inspired you to do this?
Answer: I like to visit people. I like to talk to people. I do go to church, and I just want to be of service to anybody that needs it.
Question: What are some of the challenges associated with this type of service?
Answer: It’s hard to go into a person’s home and spend time with them, at least once or twice a month, and all of a sudden, they’re gone.
I have been on two death vigils. One was up in Northern Cambria. I was told this gentleman did not have any family. While I’m sitting, relieving the other volunteer, in comes his son, his daughter, daughter-in-law and two grandsons. So I’m sitting there, trying to get some information about him because he was in a coma, while in walks his wife. I introduced myself to her. She didn’t feel they needed me, so she says, “You can go.”
Well, I didn’t go. I stayed and afterwards I come back in. Her son comes over and says, “I apologize for my mom.” And I says, “Don’t apologize. She’s been married to him for 60-some years. I have an idea of what she is going through. ... She’s under a lot of stress. Don’t apologize.” So they left, and I was sitting back down, reading the Bible to him, and in walks his other daughter and grandson. She introduced herself, and I talked to him, and a few minutes later, he was having a hard time.
I says, “Can I make a suggestion? ... He’s dealing with a lot of it because he ran around with his granddad for a long time.” I says, “Talk to him. The last thing that goes on a person is their hearing. He’s not going to be able to communicate with you, but he can hear you. Just talk to him. Tell him a joke or tell him what you did today.”
And that’s what he did. Afterwards, she gave me a big hug and the kid comes over and gives me a hug and says “Now I have closure.”
I was supposed to go up the next day to relieve the lady. I got there about quarter to six. He had passed away about 5:30. So his son and two grandsons come in ... and saw me, and he says, “Was he alone when he died?” and I says, “No, the other lady was with him.” He shook my hand. ... I walked out the door and his two grandsons and himself gave me big hugs and said “Thank you for being here.”
Question: What other experiences have you had?
Answer: I had another here, about a month or so ago. The lady that trained me asked if I would go down to Johnstown. She said, “That’s kind of far away” and I says, “No, not really for me. I’ll go.” And this lady was 95. Her daughter-in-law works for the agency also. So I went in. It was a rest home up at Westmont. I went in and was talking to her and getting some information about her and that … and the nurse left. ... I’m sitting beside the bed. She couldn’t communicate but she was conscious and she wanted a drink of water. She looked right at me and puckered her lips. There was a cup with a sponge on it. So I gave her a little drink and wiped her lips and that.
I’m sitting reading the Bible to her and all of a sudden she reaches up and she gets a hold of my hand. For two and a half hours I held her hand, prayed with her. Every now and then she’d stop breathing. I thought maybe that was it. Then she’d squeeze my hand tight and struggle to get back to breathing and she was fine. So I walked out and I was talking to the nurse at the desk. She says, “Where you from?” I says, “I’m from Clymer.” She says, “Tell me, why would you come all the way down here?” And I looked at her and I says, “I’ll go anywhere I’m needed. I can’t see anybody dying alone.” And I left. I was supposed to come back at 10 o’clock the next morning to sit with her. I got a call at 8 o’clock that she had passed away. Two days later, I get a call from her daughter-in-law. She thanked me for being there.
Question: What all services do you provide for the hospice patients?
Answer: I go in to be a companion to them. Talk to them. Visit. The first patient I had was up a Rebecca Manor nursing home up in Ebensburg. I was scared at first. I had to go with the lady who trained me. I was scared. … He couldn’t remember day-to-day, but he could remember the past. I got to know him through his past and everything else, and I felt comfortable. Every time I would go in, the nurse would tell me, “He can’t remember day-to-day what he did, what his name is” but as soon as I walked in the room, he knew my name, where I was from. He always wanted to go to Luigi’s restaurant in Clymer.
Then I had two patients, they were both hospice volunteers from Hastings. He went to dialysis Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so I couldn’t see him more or less during the day, because the days he didn’t have dialysis he might’ve had to go for blood work or something. So I made arrangements to go up to their house to eat in the evenings. And I go up there and we’d sit at the kitchen table and we’d talk about everything and anything. I enjoyed just sitting there talking to him.
I had one up at Ebensburg at the rest home. The first time I went to visit him, he said, “I’m allowed outside.” So I got him in the wheelchair and we went outside and we were sitting. He says to me, “Where you parked at?” I says, “I’m parked over here in the parking lot. That blue van over there.” And he says, “Take me to the van. I want out of here.” I said, “I can’t take you. I wish I could.” I says, “Come on, let’s sit here and talk.” So we talked for a little bit. He insisted that he wanted to go. So I took him inside, and I was talking to the nurse, and here the week before I got to meet him, he tried to leave. He was going down the road and they caught him and brought him back. I just have a love for people.
Question: How do you comfort the families of your patients?
Answer: I just sit and talk to them, see what they’re feeling like. When they go, I say, “Remember what they were in your life.”
Question: How do you deal with the emotional aspects of going to see these people and then they pass away?
Answer: I get attached to people. When they pass away, I make sure I send a card to the family so they know that I cared about them. It’s rough.
Question: What can other people do for families who are in a hospice situation?
Answer: More or less just be there for them when they are needed. Pray for them and more or less just support them. Give them comfort. It’s rough. … It’s hard. People shouldn’t have to die alone.
Question: Do you think people have any misconceptions about hospice programs?
Answer: I think they do. I think they think hospice, well, they’re dead, they’re done. ... The patients I’ve had, they’re more lively than I am. You go in, and they have a good spirit about them, they joke around, they carry on.
Question: When you send cards and letters, why is that something that you like to do?
Answer: My mom has done that for close to 70 years. My dad always would say she kept the post office and the Hallmark store in business. She does birthday cards, anniversary cards, sympathy cards. She had 32 cards in the month of January to send out. Four were birthday cards for grandkids. The rest of them were just friends. My daughter went down one time and did something for her, no more than two days later she got a card in the mail thanking her. If my daughter wasn’t feeling good, a couple days later she got a get well card.
Question: So you mom has inspired that portion of it?
Answer: Yeah. I think that’s what keeps her going.
Question: What do you think people should know about hospice?
Answer: Check it out. I know the VNA in Indiana is always looking for somebody. Our agency is always looking for somebody. … I wish people would get involved. I get more out of it than the person I go see.
n EDITOR’S NOTE: Bob Geary is the brother of Joe Geary, vice president and general manager of Indiana Printing and Publishing Co., which owns The Indiana Gazette. Do you know someone who would be a great subject for the Monday Q&A? If so, please call Jason Levan at (724) 465-5555, ext. 270.
Where I grew up: Clymer
Family: Wife, three daughters
Hobbies: Putting jigsaw puzzles together
Favorite food: Everything
Food I refuse to eat: I’ll try anything once.
Favorite movie: “It’s a Wonderful Life”
Pet peeve: People who talk on cellphones while driving
Life goal: To serve other people
Person who most inspired me: My mom
Something most people don’t know about me: I’m a people person.