For Rena Sheskin, she has dedicated nearly four years to finding new and innovative ways to support patients and families – even when the start of the COVID-19 pandemic created so many roadblocks.
Rena is a care companion and lead volunteer at JourneyCare’s Ada F. Addington CareCenter at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. In this role, she has assisted with volunteer training and mentoring, and has also helped decorate the inpatient unit for staff celebrations, baked treats, and made birthday cards for patients.
Rena has also used her background as a 20-year registered psychotherapist and training as an end-of–life doula to help staff, patients and their families through the pandemic. During the shutdown last spring, Rena offered mindfulness, meditation and relaxation exercises to JourneyCare staff each week in the agency’s internal newsletter.
“This has been a challenging time and self-care is especially important in times of stress. But it’s usually the first thing to fall by the wayside,” she says. “I was hoping to provide some relief, however small. When we are calm and grounded, there is a trickle-down effect to everyone around us: it’s a win-win.”
Rena also adapted during the pandemic by offering a Legacy Project – remotely – that helps patients create a keepsake for their loved ones. She interviews patients about their life, transcribes the interview and prepares a narrative document they can pass on to their family and friends. Rena says the project can provide patients with a sense of dignity, accomplishment, and agency, and that the process itself can be reflective and healing.
“It’s so rewarding to be able to help patients look back on their lives and help them to share that gift with their loved ones,” Rena says.
Though Rena enjoys each hat she wears at JourneyCare, her role as a care companion at the Chicago CareCenter is closest to her heart. Care companions are volunteers who provide emotional support to patients through companionship, sharing activities that the patient enjoys, and other support.
“While being a care companion certainly involves doing many things, I experience my role more as one of being – being present in whatever way helps meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our patients and families,” Rena says. “What I do depends on what would best serve in each moment; whatever will bring joy or alleviate suffering. What’s wonderful is that everything you do is meaningful, whether you are making a cup of coffee for a family member, or holding a patient’s hand as they take their last breath.”
Rena is among of hundreds of volunteers across 13 counties who share their gifts and time with JourneyCare in order to enhance the lives of patients and their families. Volunteer Services Manager Mary Jo O’Brien says working with them “is the best job in the world.”
“Every day, I witness their acts of unconditional love, compassion and kindness,” Mary Jo says. “They are a constant reminder that even though life can be hard, there are a lot of good people who help make it better. They inspire me to be better too.”
Click here to learn how you can help make a difference and become a JourneyCare volunteer.