Loss invokes volunteerism in couple

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 13, 2006

A tragedy in common and a desire to help others undergoing asimilar experience has also helped forge a stronger bond between ahusband and wife.

Billy and Joyce Hughes were married five years ago. Billy is 76;Joyce is 66. Both lost their former spouses to cancer.

The experience has led them both to minister to the terminallyill and their families as volunteers through HospiceMinistries.

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“We sit with patients to relieve their caretaker when they needto be away and can’t leave their loved ones unattended,” Joycesaid.

There is also some personal satisfaction, Billy said.

“You get a lot of pleasure out of talking to these people,” hesaid. “A lot of them are older and they’ll talk about their past.Sometimes you can’t hardly get away from them because they’reenjoying your visit so much. That’s why you go back. You see howmuch it means to them.”

Also, Billy said, he can empathize with the emotional agonyfamily members are undergoing. They want to stay by the patient’sside constantly, but the emotional strain is overwhelming.

Billy and Mae Hughes moved to Brookhaven from Jackson in 1990.Only 10 years later, Mae died from cancer.

Joyce’s story is similar. She and her husband, Donald Curlin,moved to Brookhaven in 1972 from Tennessee, although they werenatives of Kentucky. Donald Curlin succumbed to cancer in 1994.

Both Mae Hughes and Donald Curlin received hospice care in theirfinal six to eight weeks, and Billy and Joyce have never forgottenhow much it helped them to deal with the death of their spouses orto manage the grief in the weeks and months that followed.

“What I remember most of hospice during those days is theregistered nurse who sat and talked with me during those last fewdays and nights,” Billy said. “In the last few days, they’re withyou all the time. I would have hated to do without them to tell youthe truth about it.”

In the weeks that followed Mae’s death, Billy said he continuedto meet with the hospice minister and counselor.

“Things like that help,” he said. “You’re looking for somebodyto talk to.”

It is that experience which led to Billy volunteering to sitwith the terminally ill since his wife’s death.

“Having had the experience before, you can empathize with thefamily,” he said. “Anything you can do to help the family is verymeaningful.”

Billy had met Joyce many years before. The Hugheses and theCurlins used to square dance together.

In 2001, Billy asked Joyce to marry him. Shortly afterward, she,too, began volunteering for Hospice Ministries.

“We visit our patients once a week,” Joyce said. “There’s no settime to it. We just visit when we can.”

Unfortunately, they said, the couple meets with patientsindividually. While talking to volunteers is comforting, Joycesaid, most patients prefer to talk to volunteers of the samegender.

“Other projects we do as a couple, like baking cookies or otherthings for patients or fundraisers,” she said.

The couple also visit their regular patients together on theholidays, when they are delivering small holiday-oriented gifts tothem.