New program gives dying patients companionship

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It might sound ironic, but experts say one of the most important moments of a person's life, could be the moment when their life ends.

That's why Wishard Hospital is launching a new program called "No One Dies Alone." Dozens have already signed up to volunteer.

"I'm at peace that when it's time for me to go, it's time for me to go," said Amy Gilchrist who has terminal cancer and doesn't know how long she has to live.

When it's her time, though, "Somebody will be there. Whether it's my kids, a friend," said Gilchrist.

Others, though, have no one in their final hours.

"Sadly, it's true," said Dr. Greg Gramelspacher with Wishard Hospital. "It's the most important thing. It's the most important thing."

So important, that volunteers will be available in three hour shifts around the clock should a dying person need them.

"Sitting with a patient, keeping a vigil with them until they take their last breath," explained Gramelspacher.

The program's not for everyone.

"I suspect that these people have had something in their own life or maybe they're even imagining their own death," said Gramelspacher of the folks who want to volunteer.

"Family would be my first choice, but anybody would be better than nobody," said Bill Peyton, who wants to be that anybody for somebody.

By day, Peyton runs his own green advertising company, riding his bicycle and displaying ads. He plans to volunteer with No One Dies Alone during a night shift.

"Death, a lot of people just avoid it or don't talk about it," said Peyton.

Peyton's not backing away though from the conversation.

"We're born, we live, we die. We can't hide from that fact," he said.

Peyton's okay with facing that fact with a complete stranger he'll be called on to help.

"Just to sit there and talk to 'em, sing a song, hold their hand, tell a funny joke, whether or not they can respond back or not. I know they'll feel your presence back in that room. I'm positive of that," he said.

Peyton said he looks at it as a gift, a shared human experience.

"You can't compare it. You could do a million hours of volunteer work, or you could sit with somebody for one minute during their last minute of life and that one minute outweighs that million hours of volunteer work, so it's definitely a gift," said Peyton.

A gift Gilchrist has taken comfort, knowing people like Bill Peyton will be willing to give during one of the most important and final moments.

"Everybody needs to know that it's going to be okay to cross over," said Gilchrist.

No One Dies Alone website