The smell of warm chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven or lilacs blooming in mid-spring signifying summer is on its way. Scents can trigger a flood of memories from our past. Often the memories come back to us so clearly, we can see ourselves eating the cookies with our loved ones or the exact location of the lilac tree. For Kandy Melillo, a volunteer with Homeland Hospice, these nuggets of information help tell the story of a person’s life through the My Life, My Legacy program. Homeland Hospice is a nonprofit hospice program that serves communities throughout Central Pennsylvania.
My Life, My Legacy is an opportunity for hospice patients to tell their life story to a volunteer who records the responses and allows the family to add their thoughts and recollections, as well as photographs. The end result is a printed book for the patient to help find peace and pride in their life story. The book also helps families preserve memories after their loved one dies.
Since 2021, Kandy has completed books for three patients. Through the process, Kandy has heard what is most important in a person’s life and how we all want to be remembered for showing kindness and love to others.
“Everyone talks about the importance of family,” Kandy says. “It is special to hear this because of the love I have for my family.”
Along the way, Kandy formed a special friendship with Rita Van Meter of Lewistown, who no longer needs hospice services. Kandy completed Rita’s book in February of 2022 after many lively phone calls and visits together. Rita is often called the “Miracle Lady” for overcoming medical milestones.
“Rita’s life is one of perseverance and resilience,” Kandy adds. “I learned so much about inner strength from our time together.”
Making personal connections with others, like Rita, is what called Kandy to volunteering with Homeland Hospice. Kandy’s mother passed away in a hospital without hospice services. The setting felt cold and detached and left Kandy with a spark to help change someone’s end-of-life journey. She became a Homeland volunteer soon after retiring from her career as an administrative law judge in Harrisburg.
Through her experiences with the My Life, My Legacy program, Kandy has created a six-step outline to serve as a roadmap for volunteers to use as they interview patients and their families. The steps include questions about one’s early life, school years, higher education or vocation, work history, family history and further reflections. Kandy has found these questions frequently evoke treasured memories and stories.
“Patients have shared with me beautiful stories about milestone events in their lives,” Kandy says. “Often the memories are so vivid they can remember distinct sounds and scents.”
Kandy interviews patients three to four times before drafting the final book. This process gives her and the patient time to reflect on their conversations and make edits or additions to the piece. The final product is a treasured gift for the patient and a rewarding experience for Kandy.
The concept for My Life, My Legacy was based on feedback from volunteers who heard remarkable stories during their visits with patients. Laurie Murry, Volunteer Coordinator for Homeland Hospice, used the “life review” process as a framework for the program. During a life review, volunteers learn about a patient’s life to help the Homeland team best serve their needs. Volunteers and staff believed this process could be enhanced to better tell a patient’s story.
“Our volunteers guided the creation of the program,” Laurie says. “Their insight has been invaluable.”
My Life, My Legacy continues to grow and improve thanks to the insight of its volunteers, like Kandy, and the families who participate.
“Homeland provides wonderful support for its volunteers,” Kandy says. “I am grateful for my experiences and the stories I have heard.”
For more on becoming a hospice volunteer or more about the My Life, My Legacy program, call Laurie Murry at (717) 221-7890.