Dennis Goodno knows it’s not about him. That’s why his volunteer work was worth recognition.
Each month for the last four years, the Eden Prairie resident has visited with Bloomington-based AseraCare Hospice patients who are in their final moments of life.
He also takes the time to create artistic birthday cards for patients each month.
For his efforts, he received last month the Adult Volunteer of the Year Award from Care Providers of Minnesota.
“He has just been an exemplary volunteer, giving his time for vigils. … They sit with patients when death is really imminent. It could be hours or days,” said Ruth Goettig, who nominated Goodno for the award. Goettig is the Volunteer Coordinator at AseraCare.
Making the visits once a month for three years adds up to a significant contribution, she said.
“That’s why I nominated him,” she said.
To Goodno, it’s the staff, social workers, spiritual leaders and other caretakers who work with patients everyday who deserve recognition.
“I mean, they do it everyday,” he said. “I do it once a month or maybe a couple times a month. They do it everyday for eight hours. There are some difficult situations you walk into. … They’re the cream of the crop as far as I’m concerned. They’re the ones who should have gotten the awards.”
Goodno estimated that he has visited 55-60 patients, some of them more than once for 70-75 visits overall.
He had a few motivators for his contributions, including his mother’s death eight years ago.
“When she died I was able to go down and be at her bedside as she was dying and everything,” he said. “I kind of realized it was a peaceful time.”
Her siblings’ health was also faltering, but their care was left to Goodno’s sisters since they all lived in Wisconsin.
The final spark was in January 2009, when the recently inaugurated President Barack Obama called for a national day of service, urging citizens to help their communities by donating their time and services.
It was not a political influence, he said. He merely thought it was a good idea, be it from a Democrat or Republican.
His search for a local hospice-care provider landed him at AseraCare in Bloomington, which has 50 volunteers and 30-40 staff members, all of whom serving an average of 75-85 patients at any given time, according to Goettig.
AseraCare does not have an inpatient hospice care facility. Staff and volunteers go to them.
When he visits, most patients are unable to communicate, he said. It’s family members he visits with or to whom he offers a break.
Naturally, there are some visits that have resonated with him.
“There’s probably three people that immediately come to mind, and they’re some of the ones I think about a lot,” he said.
The first was a talkative patient who made him comfortable as a new volunteer, asking about his life and why he started volunteering. A children’s book was by her bed. It was one a friend had made for her children while she was sick.
“After a while … she looked up at me and she goes – in a real almost childlike voice – she said, ‘Would you read my book to me?’ … It almost broke my heart.”
The second reoccurring memory was of a German-born woman who re-married to an American soldier after her husband, a German u-boat captain, was lost at sea in World War II. She moved to California with her American husband and volunteered at hospitals for years, her son told him.
“It sounded like such a fascinating life to me that she had lived,” he said.
The third memory was of a seemingly tougher family crowd. The patient was an ex-convict who was unable to communicate while in hospice care, but he established a relationship with his eldest son during his multiple visits, he said.
The patient had met his wife while in prison. He was serving time for armed robbery (or something similar), Goodno said. She was a volunteer at the prison. When his term ended, they wed and had two sons and a daughter.
When the children were young, he returned to jail after getting involved with former acquaintances, Goodno said. While serving a 10-15 year term, he became a chaplain, making it a point to visit others in prison once he was released, Goodno said.
All of this had been relayed through the man’s son, Goodno said.
“I think his son really appreciated the presence … It helped him get through all of it I think,” Goodno said.
Those are memorable, but he tries to see patients who do not have family or friends near the Twin Cities, who do not have regular guests staying with them before they die.
“The patients who don’t have anybody are the ones that affect me the most,” he said.
Making them comfortable – simple things such as dimming lights that are too bright, quieting noisy televisions or shutting out hallway noise – makes a big difference, he said.
“You try to make it peaceful as possible,” he said.
It has made him more comfortable, too. Death was a difficult subject.
“When I was younger I wasn’t real easy and comfortable with it,” he said. “ … I feel differently about it now. I’m much more at peace with it.”