Sitting on a couch at Roman Court Senior Living & Memory Care in Rome, the Adairsville resident engaged 94-year-old Hindman, asking questions about his family, military service and gardening. While his responses were quiet and fragmented, due to age and end-stage Parkinson’s disease, one word or even a look of recognition is worth a thousand words to Mathis.
Separated by age and mobility, the pair’s service to their country helps bridge the gap during their visits. While Hindman is a World War II veteran, having served as a mechanic on an U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft that flew over Africa, Mathis was a security police officer in the U.S. Air Force from 1988 to 1991.
“The special part about being a veteran with a veteran is there is that one thing that connects me with them that I understand about them,” said Mathis, 47, who currently is participating in Homestead Hospice’s We Honor Veterans program. “Hospice, the general consensus is [it is] the latter years of their life and they have lost the ability to communicate. So as I tell my story to them you can see with emotion in their eyes if they’re not vocal that you’re sharing a bond that not everybody has.
“Each [person] is different. If they’re nonverbal, all your cues have to be from a twinge in their eye, a little sparkle that you may see or there’s a look that comes over somebody when you see pride that is a nonverbal cue, a body response, and just things that you discuss that you’ve done. It’s a sense of pride, knowing what they have gone through and over history the conflicts and battles that have been during their time of service and the changes that occur now as far as technology and things like that. But there’s still that pride of saying, ‘I was there; I served my country to [maintain] the freedoms that we have.’”
Describing herself as having a passion for this type of service, Mathis has been volunteering with Homestead Hospice for one year, during which time she has provided companionship to about 33 patients who are homebound or residents of Roman Court. Currently, she is visiting two veterans at Roman Court who are patients of Homestead Hospice. In addition to interacting with the residents individually, she also offers a group setting, where elderly individuals can engage one another.
“[Bennie] is nonverbal, so basically with him you can read to him and talk to him [and make] contact, just sitting there with your hand on his shoulder even if you’re just sitting there watching the other residents go by,” Mathis said. “It’s not all about engaging him in conversation. It’s sharing the same space on a couch, just sitting there, just giving him attention.
“... I can talk about things that I’ve done, and again looking at his face, you can see the recognition of him remembering what he did. But with him specifically you can’t get a response out of him in the normal manner, which people think.”
Also present at Thursday’s meeting was Hindman’s great-niece April Williams, who works at Roman Court.
“It’s wonderful,” Williams said about Mathis’ visits. “He loves it. He loves to talk about the old days and what he used to do. He used to be a mechanic. ... Just talking about those memories helps.”
For Lisa Crane — volunteer coordinator for Homestead Hospice — Mathis and Hindman’s connection is a prime example of one component of the company’s We Honor Veterans program. Another part of the initiative is recruiting active military personnel to present a certificate of appreciation to veteran patients of Homestead Hospice.
“We are affiliated with the National Hospice and Palliative Care [Organization] (NHPCO) and it’s just a wonderful program. The main objective is to match veteran volunteers with veteran patients, and it’s veteran patients of all ages,” Crane said. “It’s World War II, World War I, of course, Korean. We have veteran patients of most all wars.
“It’s my personal dream, I’ve set out to try to make sure that all of our veteran patients have a veteran volunteer because they have so much in common. And they can relate in so many areas and it kind of takes the focus off their illness, per se. [Our number of patients] changes every day ... [but] out of 120-plus patients right now that we have the honor of serving ... approximately 20 of those are veterans. ... I know there’s a lot of veterans out there that [are] retired and that have some time [who] could make such a big difference.”
To volunteer in the We Honor Veterans program, individuals need to call 678-290-4817 to find out more information about training, which typically spans two to six hours, and requirements, such as a background check, tuberculosis skin test and drug screen, paid for by Homestead Hospice. Based at 162 W. Main St. in Cartersville, Homestead Hospice serves patients residing at home or in a care facility who are located within a 60-mile radius of its office.
“It’s as much difference as daylight and dark in their life,” Crane said, referring to Homestead Hospice patients receiving visitors. “So many of them, they sit there just waiting for companionship, and when the volunteer comes in ... you can just see happiness, just a sense of relief that someone is there reaching out to them. Someone that doesn’t have to be there. Someone that wants to be there. Someone that’s willing to give a beautiful gift of time.”