From the time Deanne Tetrault was a young girl, she wanted to be a teacher. She spent a total of 47 years teaching — 37 years in public schools teaching first, second and third grades, and 10 years in a private Christian academy. Having large classes of more than 30 students presented challenges, and Deanne always appreciated the support offered by her paraprofessionals, or teacher aides. These volunteers made a huge difference in daily routines. They made life less stressful for both teachers and students.
As she approached retirement, Deanne looked ahead, planning a purposeful path. One of her student’s parents worked in hospice, and this idea planted a seed. Deanne realized that, although the exuberant energy of young children was a joy, she felt called to work with people at the end of their lives. Shortly after she retired, she saw an article about hospice in the local paper. She thought this was a way she could continue to be needed – by offering comfort and compassion to the ill and dying as well as their families.
Deanne started volunteering in September of 2014. Through a local nonprofit, Community Nurse Home Care, an organization with 100 years of history, Deanne completed a training program and began visiting hospice patients. As soon the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, volunteers were no longer able to sit with patients, so Deanne transitioned into a role as an administrative support volunteer for the Community Nurse and Home Care staff. She has remained in that capacity since then.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Well, I wasn’t ready to retire. I have always had a nurturing spirit and wanted to help. The idea of switching from children to elders was meaningful to me. I could help ease their loneliness and offer some comfort to their families.
Initially, when I started, I visited patients who were not expected to live long, although my first patient lived over a year. Working with people in hospice is very rewarding and fulfilling. In some cases they wouldn’t even know I was there, so I would befriend the caregiver who needed a friend during this difficult time. As a volunteer we can’t do much for the patient, except to be present. Family caregiver support is just as important. Their quality of life is destroyed as well due to having a terminally ill loved one. I am reminded that with Alzheimer’s patients, you lose your loved one twice. First, they forget who you are. They don’t know you anymore and they lose their personality. Then, you lose them again when they pass. It’s incredibly hard on their family caregivers.
Describe your volunteer role with Community Nurse Home Care.
Prior to COVID I saw patients in hospice. I would go in two or three times a week. As soon as COVID hit, we volunteers weren’t allowed to sit with patients. Even before COVID, I was asked help out in the office to do a little filing. This turned into an almost full-time job. I got called back to return to the office after COVID, and this has become my primary role.
Each patient has a folder, and it’s my job to organize and maintain these. The materials in the folders explain procedures, logistics, ins and outs of hospice care, information for families and other resources. If there are any other jobs in the office that need to be done, I do them. I shred documents, hand-write invitations and gift tags, and other tasks to help out the office staff. Last Christmas I put tags and bows on poinsettia gifts.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
I love knowing that I’m making someone’s day, that I’m lightening the load and easing the burden whether I’m sitting with a patient, chatting with a family caregiver or helping in the office.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I have learned to be more confident in myself and what I have to offer in helping others. I’m becoming someone who is even more dependable and responsible. I’ve learned it doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s life.
Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?
You need to be able to live outside yourself. Being too centered on yourself can make you an unhappy, joyless person. Living out of your own box and living for others is important. My life is simple. I don’t have a grand life, but I love serving, I love helping. I am so happy because of this. It’s a privilege to work with this particular organization. You are never too old to learn from someone else.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I can sum it up with this beautiful devotional from Streams in the Desert, Vol. 2 by Mrs. Charles Cowman that helps me start each and every day. It helps me to remember that you can live a very beautiful life, even if you’re not important or famous. You can be a blessing even if you live the smallest life that fills its place.
“A life need not be great to be beautiful.
A beautiful life is one that fulfills its mission in this world,
This is what God made it to be, and does what God made it to do.
Those with only commonplace gifts are in danger of thinking that they cannot live a beautiful life,
Cannot be a blessing in this world.
But, the smallest life that fulfills its place well is far lovelier in God’s sight than the largest and most splendidly gifted, yet fails in its divine mission.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Deanne? Find local volunteer opportunities.