For his 79 years on this planet, the following themes connect different times in John Summers’ life – volunteerism, service to others and communications.
Those themes took root in John’s life when he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps right out of high school, and carry through to today as evidenced by his service as a volunteer with Blessing Hospice.
“I want to help people,” he said.
Service to country
It was June 1963. Not ready for college and motivated by tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union in what was known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, John joined the Marine Corps and became a field radio operator.
As a radio field operator, John never knew to which unit he would be assigned. His military service taught him teamwork.
John served in Vietnam. During his first tour, he was injured. After spending six months recovering stateside, he returned to service in Vietnam in 1966-67.
After completing his service, John graduated from Linn Technical (now named the State Technical College of Missouri), Linn, MO, using the GI Bill and brought his commitment to volunteerism, service to others and communication skills to the Quincy area.
Service to community
John spent 17 years in electronics manufacturing in the Quincy area, and as an inspector of international shipments leaving from businesses throughout the Midwest.
Witnessing a close family member receive hospice care planted a seed that John would cultivate years later, after retirement, when he heard Blessing Hospice needed volunteers.
He became a hospice volunteer, just like he did decades before when he joined the United States Marine Corps.
Blessing Hospice provides comfort care through pain and symptom control, and social and spiritual services to people diagnosed with terminal illnesses and their loved ones. The team includes doctors, nurses and certified nursing assistants, social workers, clergy and volunteers whose mission it is to help those at the end of life experience the highest quality of life possible for all their remaining months, weeks or days. Care is available in the west central Illinois counties of Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike and portions of Henderson.
John brings a special skill to Blessing Hospice.
Sharing stories and understanding
Veterans at the end-of-life often have special needs – unresolved issues from their military experiences that they have kept deep inside. Those often-painful memories can cause great anxiety at the end of life.
To better understand and meet these needs, Blessing Hospice has been a partner of “We Honor Veterans” since 2013. It is a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We recognize that veterans often face unique issues at the end-of-life, related to their military service, combat experience or other traumatic events,” said Christie Campbell, RN, nurse manager, Blessing Hospice. “As a We Honor Veterans program partner, we have access to proven practices that help us better meet the needs of and honor these special patients.”
Volunteers like John help meet the needs of Blessing Hospice patients who are veterans and have not been able to speak to their loved ones about their military service.
“Just the things about war and the military,” John said about why some veterans find it difficult to speak openly about their service. “There are humorous points, but there are some very serious and deadly things. Veterans use their filters.”
“Me, being a fellow veteran, opens a line of communications,” he continued.
A patient’s loved one confirmed that to John after hearing his discussion with her family member.
“She said, ‘We’d never heard any of those stories.’ He was willing to share those stories with me - a fellow veteran - someone who had been there, and talk freely about his experience,” John explained.
“If you’ve been in the military, there are common areas of experience; like the lingo, or the fact that you are away from home for prolonged periods of time,” he said. “What was your life like before you went in? What’s it been like since you’ve been out? Are you carrying a load that some of us don’t even know about?”
As a volunteer, John visits with patients he is assigned to as often or as little as they wish to have his listening ear at their side. Not all of his patients are veterans. But the veterans have taught John one more lesson about life in the military all these years later.
“There are a number of people who had a lot tougher time than I did. I am glad I can allow them to share some of their experience.”
About Blessing Hospice
John Summers’ whole-heartedly recommends becoming a hospice volunteer to anyone interested in service to others, whether they area a veteran or not.
“You can be that listening ear for someone in a tough spot,” he said.
For more information on Blessing Hospice, including volunteer opportunities, go to blessinghealth.org/hospice.