When Family and Friends Can’t, Volunteers Step in to Make Sure No One Dies Alone #ThrowbackThursday

From the outside, it looks like they're doing nothing more than sitting by the bedside of patients who are often unresponsive. But if you stick around a while, you'll realize that their purpose for being there is noble and clear: to make sure those patients have someone by their side when they leave this world. "It's honestly been one of the most humbling and rewarding things I've ever done in my life," Lynn Stolp says of her involvement in Mayo Clinic's No One Dies Alone program. "It's an honor to sit with people and bear witness to them passing out of this life."

Stolp, a training and development analyst in Practice Operations at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, says she volunteered for the program after the death of a family member. "He chose to die at home, and so our family was with him until he took his last breath," she says. "I just started thinking about all of the people who don't have that—those who have no family or who have outlived their families and are just lying there in the hospital alone." So when she heard about the No One Dies Alone program, she thought, "I want to do that for other people."

Since 2015, she has, often leaving work at a moment's notice to sit at the bedside of a dying patient. Just like she did in one unique situation with a patient Stolp tells us she'll always remember. "I sat with her for four or five days, which is unusual because we're usually called in within 36 to 72 hours of a patient's anticipated death," she says. "But this particular woman, the first time I sat with her she was conscious, and so she talked to me about her family. We just sat and chatted, and it was almost like talking with my own mother. I sat with her several times during the course of those four or five days."

It wasn't until after the woman passed, though, that Stolp would learn why she was at Mayo Clinic alone. "I found out she did have family who were taking care of her until they no longer could," Stolp says. The family had experienced a crisis just before they were planning to leave for Rochester to be with her.

After the woman's passing, her daughter reached out to Stolp to thank her for taking their place and to learn more about her mother's final moments of life. "She asked very specific questions about that," Stolp says. "She was so grateful there were people at Mayo Clinic who treated her mother exactly like she would have, had she been able to have been at her bedside."

Lisa Brink, volunteer manager at Mayo Clinic Hospital—Rochester, Saint Marys Campus, tells us that's the true purpose of the program. "These volunteers place the needs of the patient first by being there for their final moments of life when family or friends cannot," she says. "Their ability to be present during that time truly represents Mayo's values of respect, compassion, and teamwork."

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