August 3, 2021
Recording Memories: Meet EveryStep Hospice Volunteer Bob Leonard
If you ask an EveryStep Hospice volunteer what the biggest misconception is about hospice care, they’ll usually answer that most people don’t understand exactly what hospice is. Bob Leonard was among that group until about 15 years ago, when he interviewed a hospice volunteer on his KNIA/KRLA (Knoxville/Pella/Indianola) radio show.
“Not knowing much about hospice, I was worried that it would be a boring and sad interview,” says Bob. “But it wasn’t. She taught me that hospice was about life as much as death. Most importantly, I learned enough about hospice to help my mom and dad, and an aunt.”
It also led Bob to become actively involved in hospice volunteer work.
For the last 11 years, Bob has visited EveryStep Hospice patients to ask questions about their lives and digitally record their answers. These “life reviews” are then provided to the patients’ families. “I always hope that each person I talk with shares not only some stories from their life, but also leaves a precious gift or two in words for those they will leave behind,” says Bob. It also provides loved ones with a recording of their loved one’s voice.
Once Bob ran into the daughter of a man whose stories he had spent time recording. “She told me, ‘we took that recording you made with Dad, and put it in the side room of the funeral home with all his photos and memorabilia, and put it on loop, and it was just like he was there with us, like he wasn’t gone, hearing him laugh and talk with you, it was wonderful. Wasn’t like a funeral at all, and everyone had a good time just hearing his voice, his stories, and it was more like a party than a funeral, and he would have just loved it, so thank you.’”
Bob’s volunteer work also extended to serving on the advisory board for the EveryStep Hospice team (then HCI Care Services) in Knoxville. He remembers telling his mother about his position on the board; he recalls the conversation went something like this:
When I told her I was on the [EveryStep] board, she asked me, "What do you do?"
I replied, "Well, we meet for lunch once a month, and talk about stuff."
"No," she said. "What do you do?"
"Well, I replied. "We eat, and discuss budgets and events and stuff."
"NO," she said, "What do YOU do?"
"Oh," I replied, "I go around and visit patients and record their stories for their families."
"Good," she said. "Why didn't you just tell me that?"
“Her point was to be an active board member,” says Bob. “In mom’s 50 years of volunteering she had seen plenty of board members who only ‘met for lunch.’" Bob encourages everyone that is interested in volunteering for EveryStep to do so. “We all have different talents and interests, and we need to ask ourselves, ‘how can I use my talents and interests to help the organization?’ If you are like me, you will get lots more out of it than you give.”
To learn about hospice volunteering opportunities, please visit www.everystep.org/volunteer; go to “programs” and click on “hospice.”
To read a recent piece written by Bob and published by the Des Moines Register, click here.