In 1987, Velma McCullough craved a change in her daily routine, although she didn't know where to begin.
Then she remembered a dream she had never had the chance to pursue.
A former government employee, McCullough, 62, had dreamt she might someday work in a hospital. As the years passed and her career paths changed, her interest waned.
Following her retirement, however, McCullough recalled her earlier aspiration -- but came up empty handed.
"I wanted to do anything I could to help somebody," she said, "but I just didn't know how."
After inquiring at local hospitals and other organizations, McCullough came in contact with members of theAnne Arundel Hospice staff. She was told of the 13-year-old hospice's commitment to serving terminally ill patients in their homes and its dependency on a staff of approximately 90 volunteers.
The volunteers "are a warm ear for people," said Chris Cody, nurse manager at the hospice, "and they provide practical and emotional support."
McCullough suddenly found herself involved in a 10-week training period, learning how to care for terminally ill patients. The training alsoinvolved using relaxation techniques to help volunteers and their patients deal with death. The techniques included meditation, prayer and listening to comforting music.
At the end of her training period, McCullough began her volunteer work, including daily visits to patients' homes and lending a supportive ear to patients and their families.
Although McCullough says she is comfortable with her hospice patients, she occasionally finds some situations more challenging thanothers.
"I didn't find it difficult from the first patient I had," she said, "but some patients may not even want you in the same roomwith them. You're just there to help out, and you let (the patients)know you are there."
McCullough and other hospice volunteers are recruited because of their concern for the patients' welfare, said Cody, and are better suited to work for the organization than professional therapists or nurses.
"The volunteers are not as threatening as professionals," she said. "They have an interpersonal sensitivity, and a sense of being able to be the family's friend." The most difficult aspect of McCullough's job is probably when one of her patients dies, especially those she considers close friends.
"You become so close to them, you feel like they're family when they leave you," shesaid, her eyes welling with tears. "But you don't dwell on the dyingpart."
Although she's aware of the tragic circumstances that are often involved, McCullough accentuates the qualities of her work thatmake the hospice job most valuable.
"It makes me feel like I can help somebody -- you get good feedback," she said. "When I leave (thepatient's home), I feel as good as they do."