Reflecting On 40 Years Of Service: EveryStep Volunteer Marilyn Shay

After 40 years visiting hospice patients in the Des Moines metro, Marilyn Shay is ready to hang up her EveryStep volunteer lanyard for the final time.

"I'm 85 and my body is telling me that I'm 85 now," Marilyn said of her decision to retire from volunteering with EveryStep Hospice. "Up until the last couple of years I kind of forgot how old I was."

Reflecting on her time as a volunteer, and the patients she connected with, proved to be a special occasion for Marilyn.

When she first became interested in volunteering for hospice, that specific type of care was new to the Des Moines area.

"I'm a nurse and I just was interested in the idea of hospice," she says. "When I read that Sister Eve Kavanagh was starting hospice here, I thought, 'that's a good idea.'"

While Marilyn, who worked as a nurse in the hospital setting, didn't volunteer right away, she was able to learn more about the end-of-life care from Sister Eve.

"Hospice was really needed and a new idea at the time in this area," she says. "So it just kind of interested me."

Soon, she had signed up to visit with patients in the metro. And a few years later, her husband followed suit.

"This was the kind of nursing I was trained to do," she said of hospice care. "When you get out in the real world and you're working for a boss, it's 'do this, do that.' I enjoyed volunteering for hospice because I could go in and spend time with the patient. So, I just got a lot of satisfaction out of being able to do that."

Marilyn notes that the care she witnessed and the support she was able to provide correlated with what she'd learned in nursing school.

"They always emphasized in school that you need to spend time with the patient," she says. "But once you get into the hospital, when you have 10 to 12 patients, you don't have that time to spend with them."

During her decades with EveryStep, Marilyn primarily visited with patients in their own homes.

"I enjoyed that a lot," she says. "At that point in time, we had a team of volunteers. There were other volunteers that would meet with each other once a month. It brought in camaraderie."

While volunteers may not have gotten together quite as frequently later on in her volunteer experience, she never quit making connections with the patients she visited.

In fact, one of Marilyn's favorite memories is becoming close friends with the family of one patient.

"My husband was helping a patient, he would go visit him and they got to enjoy each other," Marilyn recalls. "The wife would bake cookies for my husband. Eventually, the patient passed but the wife stayed in touch. She would call my husband about the faucet not working and ask if he could help. He would say 'sure' and she'd make him lunch. We got to be great friends with her."

"There were so many really interesting patients," she says. "I was always so sorry when they passed away because I enjoyed being with them and helping when I could."

Over the years, Marilyn's volunteer scheduled has fluctuated. While she had patients to visit all year long in the beginning, in recent years she's cut back to one to three patients a year.

"As I got older, I was restricting how much I could handle," she says, adding that she tended to stick to visiting patients in the Des Moines suburbs in later years, too.

When Marilyn looks back on her time volunteering with EveryStep Hospice, she'll remember the patients.

"So often people that are dying feel lonely and it can be hard for family and friends to visit them," she says. "We were just kind of there to help them know they weren't forgotten and their families were thinking of them, too."

Marilyn strongly suggests that anyone interested in volunteering for hospice do so.

"They ought to try it, that's what I did," she says. "I just fell in love with it. Once they try it they really feel like 'yeah, I did the right thing.'"