Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Healing Grief through the Gift of Volunteering

[Reviewed and updated October 23, 2023]

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late . . . the love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him, 'What are you going through?' ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Depending upon where you are in your grief journey, at some point you may feel the need to channel your pain, as well as the time and energy once devoted to your relationship with your loved one, into something productive and meaningful ~ through the gift of volunteering. As one who truly understands the grieving process, you may feel ready to reach out to others who are suffering the pain of loss. Now that you’ve found your own way through so many challenges of grief, you have a great deal to share with others who are suffering: you can identify with their struggles, empathize with their sorrows and doubts, and offer valuable information and support.

Giving of yourself as a volunteer enables you to pursue personal interests, polish old skills and learn new ones, and make a positive difference in your community.

You can learn more about volunteering, find your local volunteer center and choose the interest area you want to explore at the Points of Light Foundation's Volunteer Center National Network .

See also the links to local volunteer opportunities on the AARP Community Service: Home Page. To help you balance service and your busy schedule, AARP’s Office of Volunteer and Civic Engagement can help you find creative options for getting involved. Enter your Zip code at Create the Good to learn about local opportunities. The site also has detailed “how-to” guides you can download, as well as other “do-it-yourself” ideas for doing good.

Other useful information on volunteering can be found on these Web sites:

Project Linus: Providing Security through Blankets

Feeding America: Find a Volunteer Opportunity

Star Legacy Foundation: Dedicated to Stillbirth Research, Education

Healthcare Volunteer: Global Portal for Healthcare Volunteers

Kindness Ideas, from Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

September 11 National Day of Service

Ten Tips on Volunteering Wisely

Volunteer Match: Where Volunteering Begins

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, more than 450,000 trained volunteers provide more than 19 million hours of service to hospice programs every year, and they are often hailed as the backbone of the country's hospice services. If you’re interested in becoming a hospice volunteer, contact your local hospice organization – or consider some of the agencies that offer in-depth training applicable to all hospice settings:

Hospice Volunteer Association

Volunteer Hospice Network

Hospice Volunteer Training Institute

Hospice Volunteer Training Series

Metta Institute

Upaya Institute

You can learn more in Angela Morrow’s informative article, What Is a Hospice Volunteer?  and in Lizzy Miles' honest and touching personal account, Diary of a New Hospice Volunteer. In Become A Volunteer, Hospice Foundation of America describes the many different ways that hospice volunteers can serve, while volunteers from around the country describe their roles and share their experiences in its video, Time . . . to Help Others. Also highly recommended is Stan Goldberg's inspiring book, Lessons for the Living: Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life, in which the author shares the wisdom he gains from being a hospice volunteer.

In this heartwarming video, Susan Rose explains what's kept her volunteering at Hospice of the Valley since 1977:

Giving back to the courageous folks who serve your community is yet another alternative. Consider how Scott Mastley (whose brother died in an auto crash) honors the men in his local fire department every year, as a way of thanking the individual fireman who comforted his brother as he lay dying. He writes,
"I gathered the courage to call the man who sat in the car with my brother while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. The man was a fireman, and he was off duty, painting a house to earn extra money, when he saw the accident." Read on here: Turkey Talks: Thanking the Man Who Comforted My Brother.

In Giving to Others Helped Mom Make It through Loss of Daughter, bereaved mother Jenny Hander describes how she brought hope and healing back into her life following the death of her newborn. Because her baby was a twin, she realized she had a double supply of stuffed animals, toys and books for her surviving daughter – far more than she needed. Beginning at home and branching out into her community, she began collecting and distributing new and gently loved stuffed animals to children in her city, on behalf of the national organization SAFE (Stuffed Animals For Emergencies).  “Donating stuffed animals to children in need allowed me to share the love I had for my daughter who had passed,” Jenny writes. “In two years, I distributed over 2,000 stuffed animals to local children’s shelters and hospitals.” According to their Web site, SAFE chapter members “collect new and gently used stuffed animals, toys, books and blankets to be redistributed to emergency organizations, children’s services, hospitals, homeless shelters and many other places that help children during times of crisis. These emergency organizations use the stuffed animals to ease the children’s nerves and calm their fears. Your donations let the children know you care and help them feel a little more SAFE when they need it most.”

For her part, Personal Property Services expert Julie E. Hall encourages readers to Use Your Stuff to Bless Others . Find more compassionate advice “for dealing with a lifetime accumulation of stuff” on Julie’s helpful and informative blog, The Estate Lady.

Especially at this time of year, when so much of the focus is on gift-giving, you might consider asking yourself these questions: Is there something you've always wanted to learn how to do? What causes or issues are important to you? What skills do you have that you could offer to others? Are you ready to offer the gift of volunteering?

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here

Related Articles:


  1. “Time…to Help Others” is a new video from Hospice Foundation of America (HFA), intended to inspire and motivate viewers to become hospice volunteers by sharing thoughts and experiences of current volunteers. It runs just over 16 minutes and is subtitled for the hearing impaired. View it online at

  2. In another interesting article, Volunteering by the Aging is Giving Back, the author observes: "A recent study at Arizona State University, led by psychologist Morris Okun, found that there is a link between volunteerism in the elderly and a prolonged life span. Here are a few areas where the aging may choose to become involved." Read more here:

  3. See also this beautiful essay by Rachel Naomi Remen, who explains how service is different from helping: "In The Service of Life,"

  4. This just in from Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation (SSLF):
    Soaring Spirits is thrilled to announce the addition of Janine Eggers (AKA TxMomx6) to our Board of Directors. Janine will be serving as our National Volunteer Coordinator, making volunteering from wherever you live possible! With her extensive personal, and professional, volunteer experience Janine brings a talent for connecting willing hands with tasks that serve our whole community! Her passion for building community among widowed people, and her enthusiasm for the work of SSLF will make her a an amazing addition to our team. SSLF is run by a dedicated volunteer team. Do you want have a desire to give back to the widowed community? Do you have any special talents you'd be willing to lend to our programs? Have you been looking for a way to turn your grief experience into something more than just a personal tragedy? We need YOU....just contact Janine at, and she will find a way that you can make a difference through your support of Soaring Spirits!

  5. Here's a helpful and informative article by hospice nurse Angela Morrow, RN, describing another role that hospice volunteers can play: insuring that no one dies alone: "Death Vigils in Hospice Care,"

  6. See this lovely post from The Daily Om, "Giving the Gift of You,"

  7. In his PsychCentral article, Senior News Editor Rick Nauert makes the point that "Altruistic Volunteering Can Lead to Longer Life,"

  8. Studies have shown that those who give, live longer. Now, according to a new study at the University of Michigan, what really counts is not whether people volunteer, but WHY. Read "Motives Matter: Why We Volunteer Has An Impact on Our Health,"

  9. This video describes how a former TV reporter for Channel 12 News spends his Saturdays volunteering for Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona:

  10. If volunteering for pets and their people appeals to you, consider Pet Peace of Mind® (PPOM) ~ a Banfield Charitable Trust program that helps nonprofit hospices keep patients and their pets together during the end-of-life journey. There are currently 38 PPOM programs in 23 states, and they are growing fast. To find volunteer opportunities to help care for hospice patients' pets, contact a participating hospice near you:

  11. "Haircuts @ Home" is a volunteer program of San Diego Hospice and The Institute for Palliative Medicine, whereby hairdresser volunteers make a significant impact simply by giving a haircut:

  12. Jeanne Dennis, Senior Vice President of the VNSNY Hospice Care, writes about the rewards and challenges of being a hospice volunteer in "Hospice: Volunteering at the End of Life,"

  13. To help celebrate the work of hospice volunteers during National Volunteer Week, April 15-21, NHPCO is pleased to share these photos from hospice programs throughout the country:

  14. In appreciation of all they do at Hospice of Red River Valley, Volunteer Services Manager Deb Kluck wrote this lovely letter to the editor of her local paper. Says she, "We simply could not provide our depth of services without them":

  15. Here's another hospice that extends its care to the animal companions of its patients, thanks to volunteers in its Pet Peace of Mind program:"Hospice Care Trickles Down to Pets,"

  16. "Earth's Angels: Helping Those Who Otherwise Would Die Alone," ~ A beautiful story "about regular folks who step into the end-of-life void the 21st century has created . . . total strangers who offer comfort and companionship to the Karen McClellands of a changing world -- some closer to the end of their journey than others."

  17. "Hair Stylists Provide Renewed Dignity to Hospice Patients" is the first of a series of blogs highlighting San Diego Hospice volunteers in their area of service. The first volunteer, Karin, is a Haircuts@Home volunteer. Volunteers like Karin help provide dignity and comfort by visiting patient’s homes to style their hair, since most patients aren’t able to go out on their own. Read more about the Haircuts@Home program here:

  18. In this beautiful post, blogger Elaine Mansfield describes her own journey from heartache to healing as a hospice volunteer: "Healing My Heart at Hospicare,"

  19. Joyce Marie Sheldon, the recipient of hospice and home care for her husband many years ago, shares her heartfelt tribute to the volunteer who meant so much to her throughout his illness and beyond: "The Hospice Volunteer: Weaving a Fabric of Faith,"

  20. Hospice and Palliative Care News has published a series on the important role played by hospice volunteers:

    The Hospice Volunteer: A Profile On A Vital Population:
    Part 1,
    Part 2,


Your comments are welcome!