Through their shared love of volunteerism, a husband and wife have been humbly giving their time and compassion to those in need at the Hospice of East Texas in Tyler.
Maureen, 62, and Dave Leming, 64, of Tyler, have been volunteering with the hospice for about five years.
He does in-home visits for hospice patients and takes furniture donations to hospice, and she works on the front desk once a week.
After he retired from his 35½-year career with Kraft Foods in Chicago, they decided to move to East Texas to be near their daughter, who lives in Kilgore with three of their six grandchildren.
They asked their banker about worthwhile organizations to volunteer for and he suggested Hospice of East Texas. Six months after coming to Tyler, he started volunteering there and she came a few months later.
Through his work, he’s learned the importance of empathy.
“You can’t change their situation. So you have to be empathic toward their situation,” he said. “It also teaches you to understand that your situation, no matter how bad of a day you got, there are bigger and more profound challenges.”
To be a volunteer, there are no special skills required, except being able to listen to patients.
When nearing end of life, hospice patients may have the opportunity to resolve broken relationships or other issues between loved ones, he explained.
“It’s a different way of exiting life. When you have time to think about it, I think some people’s relationships change in a good way,” he said. “If I walk out of here today and have a heart attack, I can’t fix any of my broken relationships. For these folks, if they so wish, it’s an early warning system.”
While meeting with patients, he’s met people who have lived through extraordinary experiences, such as the fighting in the World War II battles and one of the clients’ mother was in the concentration camp Auschwitz.
“For me, we’re losing a generation that I think is extremely unique,” he said. “It’s an appreciation for the generation of people we’re losing.”
Some requests from patients have included driving a golf cart around a golf course with a patient and mowing the grass for someone who took pride in their yard.
Along with others, he also used a laptop to show the webcam of Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park for a hospice patient who always wanted to see the geyser erupt.
“It wasn’t the same as being there, but he enjoyed it,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot of skills just a computer and HDMI cable.”
Maureen works the front desk every Tuesday morning and guides visitors in the right direction.
“A lot of times you can tell when it’s their first time. They’re nervous. They’re anxious. You can just tell in their voice they have a lot of anxiety,” she said. “Once they get past that initial visit, they’re a lot more calm.”
When seeing that you’ve made another person happy, she said it’s a rewarding experience and a win-win situation.
“It’s the best place to volunteer,” she said. “It’s just nice being of service to someone else (and) put someone else first. It makes you stop to think about enjoying the day. When your feet can hit the floor, it’s a great day.”
While they’ve been married for nearly 42 years and have three children together, they don’t often share about their hospice work.
“What happens at hospice, stays at hospice. What happens with Dave’s clients, stays between him and the clients,” Maureen said. “We don’t share that part. Dave doesn’t make a big deal of all that. That’s just something he wants to do, and he just does it.”
Volunteering in different sections of hospice also gives them breathing room and time apart.
“We have that little bit of space. So that’s kind of nice,” she said. “I think Dave feels good about what he’s done. We just don’t share a lot of it.”
He said they’ve developed relationships with their fellow hospice volunteers.
“It allows you to focus on other things for a period of time,” he said.
For them, the key to marriage is having patience and working together, she said.
Vicki Harvey, Hospice of East Texas volunteer services team leader, said volunteers are crucial to the care provided at hospice. They will work together with social workers, chaplains, nurses and the doctor to help with patients’ care.
“One of the reasons we use volunteers so much is because the patients respond to them differently,” Harvey said. “ It’s not a nurse taking blood pressure or a doctor asking questions or somebody poking them. But they can spot a volunteer when they walk in and they will talk differently to volunteers.”
There are 241 volunteers and 275 employees at Hospice of East Texas, Harvey said.
“They just change. They can tell their story and talk. They’ll talk about family and who they want to make up with,” she said. “Some people just need to get that out, and volunteers give them a way to get that out. They just sit and listen.”
Hospice of East Texas serves 23 counties throughout the East Texas region, and they’re in need of volunteers across the board, she added.
Harvey said having volunteers like the Lemings, who stick around for five years or more, provides wisdom for the patients.
“You begin to rely on them just like staff. They just quietly know how to listen, how to help,” Harvey said. “They’re very conscious that the patient drives his own care here. They can read people very well.”