It’s almost ironic that Paula Hedeen lives at the tip of Door County, referred to as Death’s Door. Ironic, because Paula volunteers as an “end of life” volunteer with Good Samaritan-Scandia Village, and because she is perhaps one of the most “full of life” volunteers I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
Paula first started visiting Scandia Village when her mother moved there in 2000. She would come daily visiting and helping out wherever she could. Before her mother passed in 2002, Paula recalls her mother telling her, “Don’t ever leave here. They need you here.”
Ever since then, Paula has done just that, along with her faithful companion, her 11-year-old border collie named Oliver Twist. Oliver has been visiting the residents of Scand since he was six weeks old. “He plays with the residents, runs around and keeps people entertained. Oliver’s more popular than I am,” said Paula.
Paula is far too humble. In addition to serving on Scandia’s board, endowment committee, capital campaign committee, co-chairing the Grand Scandia Golf Benefit, serving meals or calling a spirited game of Bingo, Paula’s true calling is working with their “end of life” ministry.
“We have a small group that the staff can call when someone is nearing their end. Our mission is to make sure that no one is alone when they pass, and sometimes there isn’t family in the area, so we stay with them until the end,” she said.
You can hear the passion in Paula’s voice as she shares her stories of being with residents in their last hours. “Death is a unique experience for everyone. Some are non-responsive and others talk until their last breath. We know that hearing is the last sense to go, so sometimes a voice is all that they need to comfort them. Sometimes I read the Bible to them, hold their hands or rub their back. My purpose is to love them, nurture them and assure them that the beyond is a wonderful thing. Sometimes all they need is ‘permission’ to go.”
What keeps Paula going back almost daily for the past 14 years is knowing that there has never been a day that when she leaves Scand, she doesn’t feel better than when she walked in. “The residents have more wisdom and courage than every library on earth put together! I love hearing their life stories and about the close-knit families they came from. They truly give me more than I can ever give them,” said Paula.
Paula knows that her work at Scand is her calling, “I’m doing exactly what God intends me to do. I know I’m doing what I should be doing. I’ve found my purpose.”
I am certain there are angels that walk among us. Without a doubt, Paula and Oliver are two of those angels. She, along with more than 300 volunteers, makes “life” at Scand, just that – a life. The gift of truly living and truly giving is the lesson that Paula shares with the residents at Scand and all of those she knows.
When I pass through “Death’s Door,” I can only hope to have someone as loving, caring and compassionate as Paula there to hold my hand.
For information on how to volunteer at Scandia Village, contact Nicki Scharrig at 920.854.2317 or [email protected].
For other hospice or peer companion opportunities in Door County, contact the Volunteer Center at 920.746.7704 or [email protected], or visit VolunteerDoorCounty.com.