Thomas Pfaffenberger, 77, from Rome City, was in the United States Marine Corps for 33 years, before retiring in 1997. In 2011, Tom began volunteering with Parkview Hospice, participating in pinning ceremonies for veterans under the department’s care. “If the patient is cognizant and was in the military, their nurse asks them if they would be interested in the pinning ceremony,” Thomas explained. “Ceremonies can also take place after the patient passes, at their funeral.”
Jessica Glad and Wilma “Gail” Williams, Parkview Hospice volunteer coordinators, shared that a significant part of the ceremony, in addition to the actual pinning, is the “veteran bag,” which contains special items for the patient, many of which are created and donated by generous members of the community. Each bag contains a pin, a framed certificate with the patient's name and branch of the military in which they served, a patriotic blanket and a stuffed bear, called a “burden buddy” or “battle buddy.”
“Every piece has its own significance,” Jessica and Gail said. “During the ceremony, the veteran volunteer goes into more detail about each one. These often get passed on to the family as a keepsake when the patient passes. At times, they are displayed at the patient's funeral service or viewing. A huge part of our veterans being able to do these ceremonies in the way that they do, are the bears and blankets that get donated to us. We are so grateful to the individuals who handmake these gifts.”
The power of connection
Jessica and Gail also shared that part of what makes these pinning ceremonies so special is the bond between the volunteer veteran and the patient, which is often established during conversations between the two prior to the pinning.
“The goal in doing this is to allow the veteran to share their story. Veterans can connect with each other in a unique way, so allowing them time to do that is important,” Jessica and Gail said. “It’s much more meaningful to the patient and the family, as well as the volunteer when they know more about the person before performing this special ceremony.”
And the value of those intimate exchanges is part of the fabric of hospice care. “Spending time with the patient and their family is what we would consider a direct volunteer opportunity, and that’s part of our initial training to be a hospice volunteer,” the coordinators said. “It’s common for us to hear from our veteran volunteers that a veteran patient told them stories that significant people in their life may have never been told. That goes back to that special connection. They have a way of bringing things out in each other that may have otherwise gone unsaid.”
Thomas began keeping records of the veterans honored with pins in 2013, and has completed 113 ceremonies since that time. They even continued the ceremonies during the COVID pandemic, via video.
“Our veteran volunteers go above and beyond for our patients without hesitation,” Jessica and Gail said. “We are beyond thankful to have volunteers on our team with the biggest hearts, who go out of their way to make these ceremonies as special as possible for everyone involved.”
For Thomas, it’s about honoring those who gave so much to our country, just as he did. “It’s giving back,” he said. “I have been so blessed in my lifetime and in the military. I sit down and share stories and memories. I have a collection of memorabilia and photos patients have given me. It’s such a special thing. We can share experiences. I’m carrying around part of their history.”
For more information about Parkview Hospice, call 260-373-9800 or 1-800-363-9977, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.