Meet the Volunteers Who Comfort the Dying When No One Else Can

Nurse Sandra Clarke’s “No One Dies Alone” program has been spreading across the country for over 14 years.

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In 2001, a dying man in a hospital asked his nurse, Sandra Clarke, to stay by his side as he passed away. He was alone with no family or friends to comfort him. She agreed, but first had to make her rounds. When she returned, the man had passed away. He died alone, but his passing changed the lives of countless people he’d never meet. Frustrated and angry that no one was able to stay with the dying man, Clarke resolved to create a group of volunteers to stay with patients who were alone and close to death.

Since then, her program has been spreading to hospitals across the United States. The No One Dies Alone (NODA) program gives people that are homeless, alone, or estranged from their families a way to die in peace and comfort with the aid of a companion. These brave volunteers work around the clock in three-hour shifts, keeping vigil with strangers whose final wish was to die with someone at their bedside.

“This is something very simple, but so important,” says volunteer Amanda Egler. “Because everyone is going to die, and to give three hours of your life, at the end of someone else’s, seems like the right thing to do.” “It’s an unusual but privileged journey to be with someone at the end of their life,” says another volunteer. “Why is the process of life so difficult? It’s a struggle for us to get in and out.” When keeping vigil, a volunteer will rub their patient’s feet, read aloud, play music, or simply hold their hand.

Sandra Clarke, R.N. discussing the birth of NODA.

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