Laura strom and buddy 2

Volunteering with Grandpa: Buddy and Laura bring joy to Hospice House

Grandfathers and granddaughters share a special bond.

That bond is growing even stronger between Laura Strom and her grandfather, W.J. Spradley, better known as “Buddy,” through their volunteer service at Big Bend Hospice’s Margaret Z. Dozier Hospice House.

Laura and Buddy, volunteers with the Care Team, visit Hospice House for two hours each week. They chat with patients and their families or play a game of cards if a patient feels up to it. Other times, they sit quietly while patients sleep.

Hospice House is the only in-patient hospice center in the Big Bend, and many people there are experiencing their final days. Laura and Buddy make sure no one feels alone.

“When we walk in and say we’re grandfather/granddaughter, it brings a sense of family into the room and helps comfort the patient and their family, makes them feel a little more at home,” Laura says.

Sixty-five years separate Laura and Buddy. They have different motivations for volunteering but find shared fulfillment in being a friend to families experiencing serious illness and grief.

“They’ve got to have a certain number of volunteers to operate this Hospice here, so they get a twofer with us,” Buddy says with a hearty laugh.

Laura, 22, is a Florida State University student from Jacksonville who wants to become a doctor. She first heard about volunteering for Hospice from her brother, an FSU graduate and former BBH volunteer who is now a surgeon.

“I thought this would be great for me to get experience because death is something you deal with as a doctor,” Laura says. “It’s a part of life and something I should be familiar with.”

Her grandfather, 87, is retired from the military. He was born and raised on a farm in Greenville, Florida. When he passed the farm down to his son and moved with his wife to an apartment in Tallahassee, Buddy had some extra time.

“I asked him if he liked to come,” Laura says, “and he seemed excited to do it. He’s always been great talking with people. He loves to start up conversations at a restaurant or in the store. He loves meeting people, so I knew he’d be great at this.”

Both Buddy and Laura admit they were nervous about volunteering with Hospice. Completing volunteer training put them at ease.

Buddy says, “My wife said, ‘Why don’t you work with your granddaughter at Hospice?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know about that. People die over there,’ but I found that the personnel and the patients are kind, and this is probably the nicest place you’ll ever be in your life.”

Volunteers fill dozens of important roles at Hospice. Some volunteers have direct patient contact; others help with administrative support, special events and special projects.

“You’re really just talking with people and keeping them company,” Laura says, “… It’s not as scary as it sounds, and it’s fulfilling to know that you’re helping people in that crucial part of their life.”

Working in Hospice House, an acute crisis management facility, requires volunteers to be flexible and ready for any situation. Laura and Buddy are naturals, says Katie C. Mandell, Volunteer Department manager.

“They approach each patient and family with great care and compassion,” she says. “They’re easy to talk to, easy to laugh with, easy to relate to. Meeting people where they are and sharing in the moment is their specialty.”

The granddaughter and grandfather knew each other well before volunteering, but now, there’s an even deeper connection between them.

“I’ve learned more about his life by listening when he explains war stories about being in Vietnam and talks about that with patients,” Laura says. “I’ve learned things about him that I didn’t know before.”

Buddy, who served in the military for 21 years, is also a volunteer on the Big Bend Hospice Valor Team, which honors Veterans at the end of life.

His pride in his granddaughter is evident.

“She’s got her goals set,” he says, “she’s managing real well, staying on track and sharing her life with other people. That’s what I like about working with her.”

Buddy expects Laura to be a fine doctor.

“She’s got a knack for it,” he says, and then adds with a laugh, “I’m hoping she’ll be in geriatrics when she grows up.”

Big Bend Hospice relies on a network of more than 300 volunteers like Laura and Buddy. If you’d like to inspire hope for Hospice patients and families, please contact the Volunteer Department at 850-878-5310 or visit https://www.bigbendhospice.org/volunteer.