CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than a few volunteers and staff at Hubbard Hospice House are there because they have already had a taste of the kind of all-encompassing care hospice offers.
Karen Ashworth has been a volunteer for three years.
"I was first introduced to Hospice because my husband's brother had been a patient here up at the house. That kind of opened the door for me."
Then, her husband became ill and received hospice care at their home.
Both experiences led Ashworth to take the training needed to become a hospice volunteer.
"The facility here, it just felt peaceful when I came in here the first time. So, after my husband passed away, the experience I had with hospice was so positive that I wanted to be able to give back a little bit.
"And I also missed the people that had been in my home to care for my husband. So it was kind of selfish, too -- if I was a volunteer that I would have contact with them again."
She spends a lot of her time visiting patients and their families.
"It's to be able to be available to them so they don't have to feel quite as alone. I'm a piece of that big puzzle, I'm a little piece."
Hospice care "balances the circle of life in the sense that a birth is celebratory -- the coming in is such a big deal so why shouldn't the going out be such a big deal as well," Ashworth said.
"It's a celebration of sorts. That people should be accompanied and not pushed away -- our society doesn't seem to deal with death too well. I think hospice softens the sting of death, at least it does for me. To know the patient is afforded the comfort and the dignity that they deserve is a true gift."
Jim O'Neil has been a hospice volunteer for more than seven years.
"I'm here because my wife died here 11 years ago this June. She spent her last six weeks here," O'Neil said.
They knew nothing about hospice and originally O'Neil had other ideas.
"I wanted to take her home but she wanted to come here and for once I let her make the decision. Best decision we ever made. I could not have cared for my wife, I could not have bought the care if I had Rockefeller's money."
Hospice is a medical facility, "but not like any medical facility you've ever been to," O'Neil said. "I thought long and hard about how to describe this place and four words come to mind: comfort, love, respect and compassion. And if you have to take one word it's compassion, not only for the patient but for the family."
O'Neil runs errands and works the front desk where he once put up a sign, inspired by the definition of a receptionist, that read: 'Volunteer Director of First Impressions.'"
"It's a godsend to me. It's a hard place but it's a wonderful place, because we're all going to die. And when you come put someone in here that's what makes it hard, because you're saying goodbye to someone you love.
"It's been a great thing for me. I finally had a chance to give back."
Debbie LaFleur, volunteer coordinator for hospice, had moved her mother to Charleston into assisted living and then her mother had a stroke. "They came and talked to me about hospice. I knew there was hospice that helped people, but I didn't really understand what it was."