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Hospice volunteer offers ‘comfort care’


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For about eight years, Richard Heidkamp has volunteered with Rainbow Hospice. For several years, he and his twin brother offered respite care to patients’ families, giving the caregiver a chance to go out.

“I would come over for a couple of hours so that, say, the wife of a patient in hospice could go out and do the grocery shopping or meet a friend for lunch or get her hair done,” said Heidkamp, a grandfather and parishioner at Mary Seat of Wisdom in Park Ridge. “I did that mostly in the homes of patients.”

Rainbow Hospice is not religious, he said, but it is very spiritual, and it enjoys a very good reputation in the communities it serves.

With the men—most of the patients Heidkamp visited—“ I played a lot of gin rummy and poker,” he said. “If they were out of it, you get some quiet reading done.”

For the last two years, Heidkamp has volunteered to offer “comfort care,” being with people on the verge of death and their families. He and other comfort care volunteers have days when they are on call, and when a family asks for someone to be with them, they go.

For example, he recently went to the bedside of a man named Joseph at Resurrection Pavilion nursing home. His partner, Donna, was able to go outside for fresh air and a break. An hour later, she told Heidkamp he could go; she was ready to stay the night.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been at bedside when someone actually died,” Heidkamp said. “That’s what people fear. People think it’s so heroic, but it isn’t. It’s being present to people.”