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To give is to receive

Kristy Eastlund (right) of Alexandria has been a volunteer with Hospice of Douglas County since last October. She currently spends time each week with hospice patient Hope Hislop of Alexandria. She is pictured here helping Hope put away groceries. (Photo by Tara Bitzan)

Kristy Eastlund of Alexandria is a natural caregiver. She's patient, caring, compassionate and quick to offer food or help with chores when someone is in need.

Despite that, she adamantly said "no" when a friend encouraged her to become a hospice volunteer.

When asked what held her back she quickly replied, "Death."

Eastlund has seen her share of suffering and loss. She helped with the caregiving for all four of her grandparents before their passing and lost her father to an accident eight years ago.

She was also familiar with hospice, having three of her grandparents use its services.

"A lot of people are afraid of death," said Sue Quist, Hospice of Douglas County coordinator. "But oftentimes, the hospice volunteer is not even there during the patient's death. The patient is often surrounded by family and hospice staff at that point."

Once Eastlund learned this, she decided to give it a try.

She began the volunteer training last October and has since spent time with three different hospice patients.

The experience came in handy for her own family.

After her father died, her mother became close to another man who was like a father to Eastlund. He suffered from lung cancer and upon Eastlund's urging, eventually utilized hospice services.

"I was able to share my experience with Loren and my mom," Eastlund said. "He had no idea hospice could do massage therapy and he really enjoyed that.

"It was so nice to have someone there to help," she added. "When things were bad we could just call one person from hospice and she came right out. We didn't have to do it alone."

Eastlund believes fate had a hand in her becoming a hospice volunteer.

When she arrived at the home of Hope Hislop, an Alexandria hospice patient, she was surprised to see a newspaper clipping of Loren and a member of Douglas County Hospital's oncology staff in an advertisement taped to Hislop's cupboard door.

She learned that the woman in the ad was Hislop's daughter.

"Wasn't that a coincidence?" Hislop said.

"I so enjoy Kristy and look forward to her visits. She's a charmer. She's so good-hearted, it would be easy to take advantage of her, but I won't!"

Eastlund helps Hislop shop for groceries and gifts or cards for family members. They also go out to eat, talk on the phone and just spend time together.

"I am so amazed at the wonderful people they have in this organization and all the good things they do," Hislop said. "It's a benefit for so many people."

Hislop, who is quite active and mobile, is a perfect example of the varied patients served by hospice.

"One of the common misconceptions about hospice services is that we only come when a person is bedridden," Quist said. "That is not true. We encourage people to contact us sooner so that we can provide services that allow them to get things accomplished and promote quality of life."

Quist noted that one of the reasons people wait is that they or their family members are in denial about the severity of the illness.

She said that locally and nationally, about 50 percent of patients only use hospice services for 14 days or less.

Eastlund has become a strong advocate for hospice.

"I've seen both sides of it, personally with a family member using it and as a volunteer," she said. "I can't say enough about how great it [hospice] is."

Her only regret is that she can't do more. She currently volunteers about four hours a week with hospice.

"I just can't do enough!" she said. "I'd rather not have a full time job so I can spend more time with these people and help them more.

In her job as a pharmacy technician, Eastlund regularly sees people who are struggling with various illness.

"I've seen people come in at the start of an illness and seen them through to the end, and I just want to take care of them," she said.

"I'll never stop being a hospice volunteer. Helping others has helped me emotionally, too. I like being able to give back to the community, and I encourage others to consider it."


The Hospice of Douglas County Memorial Butterfly Release will be held Wednesday, August 14 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Alexandria City Park.

In case of inclement weather, the event will be rescheduled to Thursday, August 15. Changes will be announced on KXRA Radio.

Music will be provided by Emergency Stop (Al Lieffort and Terry Kennedy).

To purchase a butterfly to release in honor of/in memory of someone, contact Lynn at (320) 762-3045. Cost is $10 per butterfly. They may also be purchased at the release.

Attendees are encouraged to bring a lawn chair.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

(320) 763-1211