Larry Belgeri, 10-year hospice volunteer
The conversation ranges from humorous to heart-wrenching as patients speak on camera about their accomplishments and mistakes, their jobs and families, their advice and regrets. It’s part of “Reflections,” a life-review program offered through St. Anthony’s hospice program.
“Let’s wrap up your life: we’ll put a bow on it,” Larry Belgeri likes to tell patients. Larry is a 10-year hospice volunteer who has served on the Reflections team since it began documenting patients’ life stories through videotaped or audiotaped interviews eight years ago. He says he’s never been quite the same since he began working with life reviews.
“The people we work with are patients with terminal illnesses,” said Larry, 63, of St. Charles. “Many of these life reviews we do are at their homes or their nursing homes. It really is kind of a sacred space they invite you into when they open themselves up to you, very personal and private. The window you have into their lives, it’s quite an experience.
“We had one lady talk about her life in occupied Germany during World War II,” Larry said. “A dance teacher wanted to give one last class in her basement, and she talked about her life dancing on Broadway. And one woman in her forties wanted to leave messages to her children as they grew up and got married.”
To date, volunteers have completed more than 100 patient life reviews. Larry has edited about 75 percent of the finished reviews, adding music, photos and graphics. The interviews average 45 minutes, and an average video takes two or three hours to edit.
“We see the whole human experience and put it in this package to give back to them to give to their family,” he said. Everybody has a story to tell.”
Bereaved clients also can create life reviews, said Pat Bull, a nurse assistant on St. Anthony’s Medical Center’s Oncology floor who began as a hospice volunteer eight years ago. Pat, 52, of St. Peters, films life reviews and conducts interviews; she has worked closely with Larry on many reviews.
“I chose to volunteer after I noticed what an impact it had,” Pat said. “As I interviewed patients, I could tell it began the bereavement process for many families. Hospice has always been my safe space, where I can give compassion and empathy to patients and their families during a vulnerable time in their lives. There is no place that I would rather be than with a hospice patient or family.”
Karen May created a Reflections video for her husband, hospice patient Dennis May, after he died of liver cancer in November 2013.
“We had talked about it, and he said (a life review) was just too hard for him,” recalled Karen, a 25-year employee in the Patient Accounts department at St. Anthony’s. “After he was gone, I talked to the life-review program coordinator and she said I could still do that for him. I wanted our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to have a sense of who he was.
“The volunteers who came were so kind and patient, and made me feel at ease as I told all the stories about Dennis I could remember,” she added. “They let me put in photographs, and I was able to pick two songs that he really liked. The video is really professional. I’ve watched it a couple of times and cried like a baby each time.
“Being able to do that video was honoring Dennis, honoring his memory.”
The Reflections program owes its success to volunteers such as Larry and Pat, said Cathy Sandy, Volunteer Coordinator for St. Anthony’s Hospice/de Greeff Hospice House.
“Larry has been volunteering with the Reflections program from its inception, quietly and steadily working behind the scenes to ensure that our finished product is of the highest quality,” Cathy said. “Pat also has worked with us for years. Their compassion and dedication have been a solace to many hospice patients and their families.”
Got time? Volunteers needed for Reflections life-review program
St. Anthony’s Reflections life-review program is provided free to hospice patients and bereaved family members or friends. The program functions solely via donations and through volunteer help, which is needed. Training will be provided.
“We have a little trouble getting volunteers, because people are intimidated by the technology,” longtime volunteer Larry Belgeri said. “The people who do it, love it.”
To make a donation, please call (314) 525-7330 or visit St. Anthony’s Charitable Foundation. For information on creating a life review or to learn more about volunteering, please contact Cathy Sandy at (314) 543-6869 or firstname.lastname@example.org.