Harriet Davies: Taking Care of the Caregivers
For 14 years, Harriet Davies, 78, has offered companionship and support to strangers who are on their final months of life.
When she steps into their homes, the Milford resident lets them know she is there to chat, play board games, or go for a walk with them. She also helps them eat a meal, take a drink, or even go to the bathroom.
While there, she is serving two purposes: While caring for the patient, she also is giving the main caregiver a break.
“In almost all cases they are respite visits so that the person who is the caregiver can get out to do something that they want to do,” says Davies.
She is one of approximately 375 hospice volunteers in Delaware. On average, there are 378 patients per year, says Volunteer Coordinator Rolanda Sutton-Greene. Davies, who works mainly out of the Milford office, visits one to five patients a week for two to three hours each. So far, the former teacher has cared for 57 patients; the youngest was a 23-year-old, while the oldest are in their 90s. Her patients have included a former student and the parent of two former students.
She has put in more hours—480—than any other hospice volunteer. She serves in several capacities: patient visits, office work, community education, and Camp New Hope, a program for children who have lost a loved one, says Sutton-Greene.
For her service, Davies received a 2018 Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award in the Human Needs category.
“We’re so very lucky that we got her,” says the wife of a patient that Davies cared for. (In respect for the privacy of the patient and caregiver, their names will not be used here.) “He looked forward to her coming,” she says about her husband, who became partially blind toward the end of his life. “It was nice to know he had another voice to listen to and another topic of conversation.”
When Davies visited the man, she would take off her shoes, sit and knit while they shared stories about people they both knew in Milford. They ate Reese’s Pieces and listened to ABBA, his favorite pop group from the ‘70s. “I felt comfortable if I needed to go shopping or to an appointment,” says his wife. “I knew he was happy and in good hands.”
Another caregiver says that when her husband, a former fire chief, got too sick folks stopped visiting him, so Davies took him around his town in his wheelchair to see and talk to people. “She was a blessing,” says his wife. “He loved her to death.”
Davies, who has a master’s degree in guidance counseling, taught middle school in the Milford School District for 33 years, and taught for 10 years at Delaware Tech in Georgetown. She retired in 2005. That same year she noticed an ad in the Avenue United Methodist Church bulletin asking for Delaware Hospice volunteers, and she signed up for the two days of training.
“I thought that even though it would be a stretch, it might serve as a bit of a payback for the care my mother had received from another hospice in Pennsylvania,” Davies says.
Being a hospice volunteer is both humbling and enriching, she says. And it has changed her view of death. “I think of death as part of the natural order of things now,” she says. “It’s a part of life I am relatively comfortable with.”
When not at Hospice, Davies hikes, goes on bike rides with her grandson, and plays the oboe at her church and at the Dover Symphony—where she has volunteered to play for nearly 30 years.