A lot of personal loss led Cathy Reeser to embark on a career as a hospice social worker. March is National Social Work Month and Reeser shares some of her thoughts about the 12 years she has worked with Heritage Hospice.
Heritage Hospice welcomes interns and Reeser is an example of someone who started her social work career while a student at Eastern Kentucky University. Reeser says her research into working with the dying began when her brother died in the early 1970s.
“My brother died when he was 29 and I was 21 and I started reading everything I could on death and dying. Then my mother died in ’94 and my dad in 2000. I saw the volunteer training in the newspaper and took the training. When the social worker told what she did, I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
The social worker who spoke was Rochelle Sizemore, who now is Reeser’s supervisor. In an accompanying video, Sizemore discusses the importance of interns to Heritage Hospice.
Reeser had just retired from her career as a receptionist for an elementary school in Mercer County when she decided to become a social worker. Her main objective is to support others.
“I feel like with my life experiences if I can help others go through the dying process then I want to be able to help.”
Her experience with her brother had led her to read the work of grief expert Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ books. She had many of the experiences covered by Kubler Ross while staying by her brother’s side during his illness
“My brother had a lot of the dying experiences. He said, ‘It’s beautiful and they’ve shown me around and I want to go.’”
She felt at peace with his death.
“He died with a big smile on his face. The doctors said he was hallucinating, but it gave us peace.”
Reeser says her personal experiences help with her role.
“When you’ve been through it I think it’s easier to empathize.”
Hospice was not an option when her brother died, but it was when her father died. Her mother’s death occurred after complications from a surgery. Her father died two weeks after learning of his cancer, but hospice was involved.
“Mom wasn't expected to die from hysterectomy surgery. Her illness gave me three months of hospital experience and exposure to a ventilator. So between loosing a sibling at young age, a long hospital stay and then a cancer diagnosis in my family, I can relate to a lot of the hospice families. I realize now it is my life plan. I guess going through it put me at hospice.”
Reeser finds her career rewarding.
“I feel like every family that I’m able to serve offers some kind of growth for me. Every life that I’m involved with I feel like touches my life.”
As far as the tasks she tackles in serving families, Reeser says she tries to aim for the root of the problem.
“It’s addressing what stresses they are having in their lives: financial burdens, funeral arrangements. We educate on the dying process: signs and symptoms, what to expect.”
Reeser tries to find innovative ways to help patients.
She got a communication board for a woman in her 30s who had ALS and got a computer that the patient could manipulate the cursor with her eyes.