A white shepherd named Lucca sits shyly on guard as Sutter Hospice volunteer Cheryl Hammond laughs in amusement at Jerri Millar’s dry sense of humor. Cozied up on a velvety red couch during a recent visit at Millar’s Sacramento home, the two women exchange silly pet stories and talk about their favorite television shows. Millar, a feisty 73-year-old grandmother of six, pet lover and avid knitter, has terminal lung cancer. It’s a subject she refuses to talk about, except to say she’s determined to fight to the very end.
“So many people think hospice is about dying, but Jerri is such a testament that it’s about living until you die,” said Cindy Dunning, who manages around 80 hospice volunteers in Sacramento with Sutter Hospice, a program of Sutter Care at Home.
Some of the volunteers do bereavement, some offer special services like Reiki massage or music therapy. But most hospice volunteers, like Hammond, provide weekly four-hour home visits, which can give a patient’s caregiver a much-needed respite.
Hammond, 59, has volunteered for Sutter Hospice for 25 years, providing hundreds of hours of companionship to people whose life expectancy is six months or less. She also is a hospice mentor, going on home visits with new volunteers.
Hammond says it’s a privilege to be welcomed into peoples’ homes at such a private time in their lives: “It’s an honor just to be an intimate part of the end of life.”