At Emmanuel Hospice, you might say Veterans Day is every day when it comes to providing patient care to those who have served in our country’s military.
Just ask Jim Parent, a mostly retired machine repairman, who never thought that his own service in the U.S. Marines more than a half century ago would set the stage for how he gives back to fellow veterans receiving end-of-life care.
“It was a couple of years ago when I turned to my wife, Mary, and said, ‘You know, I’m thinking of retiring, and she said, ‘Well, you might want to look into volunteering,’” Parent said.
So, he did. In exploring his options, Parent learned of something sponsored by Emmanuel Hospice dubbed its “veteran-to-veteran” program. Open to veterans and active-duty service members in West Michigan, the volunteer program offers an opportunity to provide companionship and support to veterans facing a life-limiting illness.
The first patient he saw was so disconnected from friends, family and community that, had it not been for Parent’s efforts, his funeral would have been attended by no one.
“He was in his late 50s, and even though we were fellow Marines, he didn’t want to talk about much at first,” Parent recalled. “He had children earlier in life, but I never saw any family or friends with him during my visits to his facility.”
Parent, whose own service was in Vietnam in 1969, was able to gain the vet’s trust in part by showing him magic tricks he learned via YouTube. Along the way, Parent had assured the veteran that when he passed, he would not be alone.
When he died on a cool day the next spring, Parent and four team members from Emmanuel attended his funeral at Fort Custer in Battle Creek.
“We were able to keep that promise, providing him a military funeral with a 21-gun salute,” he said. “I guess you could say Emmanuel was his family.”
Parent has since spent time with a half-dozen other veterans, whose stories are the stuff of legends, including one World War II vet who turns 102 soon and, at 100, was still piloting around his 400-plus horsepower Chevrolet Camaro.
Another WWII vet – also still living, at age 97 – grew up dirt-poor in a West Virginia coal-mining town and quit school at 14 because he was tired of being teased about his shoes, which were fashioned from cardboard and tape. He worked the mines until he was 17, then joined the U.S. Navy.
Parent says he receives more out of his volunteering than he gives.
“I get so much from their stories, and it makes me a better person, more aware of the different paths they walk, that we all walk,” he said. “I guess I’m cultivating a little empathy, too. And it’s a great learning experience.”
For his service, Emmanuel Hospice awarded him the Sister Gabriela Caring Spirit Award to honor him as the 2022 volunteer of the year.
Parent was humbled to receive the honor. The award recognizes a volunteer who carries with them the mission and vision of Emmanuel Hospice and who goes above and beyond with their compassion for patients and their families. It is named after Sister M. Gabriela Hilke, the founding visionary behind the creation of Emmanuel Hospice and the award’s first recipient.
“Jim embodies what we look for in all our team members and volunteers – the ability and willingness to go that extra mile for all the people we serve,” said Sara Lowe, Emmanuel Hospice executive director. “He’s an excellent example of all that we try to be, and to bring to our people.”
Emmanuel Hospice is seeking more volunteers for its veteran-to-veteran volunteer program, which is offered year-round for patients. Those who are interested may visit EmmanuelHospice.org/volunteer to learn more and register.