May 2, 2023 at 7:39 p.m.

The heart of a hospice volunteer

The heart  of a hospice volunteer
The heart of a hospice volunteer

By Carol [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Inderrieden used what she learned when caring for her husband


birthday card sits on a table in Rose Ann Inderrieden’s Melrose home. The card celebrates her husband, Ralph’s, 80th birthday April 18.

But the card is for Rose Ann, from the CentraCare hospice team. Ralph passed away Sept. 20, 2022, two months after he went on hospice care.

As Ralph’s wife of 50 years, Rose Ann, or Rosie as he called her, appreciates the thoughtfulness. As a CentraCare Health Hospice volunteer, she knows the importance of caring for people on hospice and their family before and after their death.

“Being a volunteer and being there for people makes you stronger. It makes you feel like you’re doing a little something to help people,” she said April 27. “I’ve met wonderful people who have been on hospice and have had wonderful conversations with families. They need somebody that can put a smile on their face.”

It was because of Rose Ann and her siblings’ experience when their mother, Elsie Hellermann, was on hospice that she became a hospice volunteer 11 years ago, for St. Michael’s Hospice in Sauk Centre. Before that, Ralph’s mother Susan also was on hospice.

“Hospice provides comfort care. You don’t want to see someone suffer,” Rose Ann said. “Aides would come in and spend time with Mom, and then you had the hospice nurses that visited her.”

Hospice care focuses on quality of life for people who are experiencing a life-limiting illness and their caregivers.

Volunteers are assigned clients by the hospice volunteer coordinator and the best days and times to visit them, along with information so they know what to talk with them about – and what not to talk about.

Rose Ann laughs with them, plays cards with them, sits quietly with them if they do not want to talk or if they are sleeping, and prays with them.

“One family wanted me to come in the morning and pray the rosary with their mom, even though she never opened her eyes,” she said.

During the pandemic, when in-person volunteering ceased, she wrote messages on cards sent to hospice clients.

“You want to send positive notes,” she said. “If it was spring, I would write ‘Happy spring to you. The grass is turning green, flowers are in bloom. There is a lot to be happy about.’”

Her experience as a hospice volunteer helped when Ralph chose to go on hospice in July of 2022.

“Before Ralph went on hospice I told him, ‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll be OK.’ I didn’t know how much that meant to him until I heard him say, ‘I’ll be OK because I know she (Rosie) will be OK,’” Rose Ann said.   

Diagnosed March 20, 2020, with stage 4 kidney cancer, Ralph was managing it.

“He was such a strong willed guy who had a hemoglobin about half of what it should have been, and yet he did things,” she said.

During a four-month span, from April to July 2022, he received nine units of blood. That July, he had chest pains while with friends at Coborn’s deli in Melrose. In the CentraCare-Melrose Hospital emergency room, Ralph was asked if he wanted anything done, and he chose to have all the monitors removed, Rose Ann said.

“I thought I lost him that day. It was Dr. Chmielewski and me, and he passed out and wasn’t breathing, and when he came back we decided hospice was it, and by the time I brought him home, they were there with the hospice bed,” Rose Ann said.

Rose Ann was Ralph’s caregiver 24 hours a day, with frequent visits from a hospice nurse.

“Being a hospice volunteer helped me know what was going on, helped me see things, helped me understand things better,” she said. “For one, you have to accept it’s all a part of life. You know you are losing someone and other than being there for them, you can’t do anything about it. Just make the best of each day.”

She did not mope.

“With Ralph, I tried to be happy because it was all about him,” she said.

On Ralph’s good days, he would tell Rose Ann maybe they misdiagnosed him; that spark of hope was present.

Hospice staff encouraged Ralph to get out of the house, if he felt up to it.

“When he couldn’t drive any more, I took him on drives twice a day,” she said.

He liked checking out the countryside, something he did when he drove his milk truck and semi.

“It was all about him, not me,” she said.

That farmer in him never left and neither did his will to work on projects in his shed. It is a shed that Rose Ann is now going through as she prepares for an auction.

On her counter is a yellowed folder with pictures of birds Ralph drew freehand years ago, treasured mementos she found after he passed away.

Hospice provides a veteran’s salute to clients who served in the military, and Ralph agreed to have that done.

“That’s one of the only times I saw Ralph emotional,” Rose Ann said.

One of Ralph’s worries was he would have extreme pain and that he would struggle.

“He wanted to be peaceful, … to accept what was happening, like his cousin did,” Rose Ann said. “His cousin said, ‘Pretty soon I will know if I’m going up there or down there.’ He admired him for being at peace.”

As a volunteer, Rose Ann has given hospice pamphlets to clients and families. She has also read the pamphlets and knew about the dying process and what to look for, including mottling of the skin – a discoloring and coldness – on the extremities days before people die.

“My man went out in style and had absolutely none of that. He was doing it his own way,” she said laughing.

Ralph passed away, surrounded by family, with Rose Ann by his side.

When she is ready, she will return to volunteering.

 As a wife of a hospice client who has died, she has to be in the right frame of mind before she can help others go through the end-of-life journey.   

As a hospice volunteer, Rose Ann has a heart for helping people.


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