'One of a Kind' Volunteer Honored for Longtime Hospice Service

'One of a Kind' Volunteer Honored for Longtime Hospice Service

By Rebecca S. Cohen

Recognize Good: The Foundation, an aptly named nonprofit whose purpose is to affirm and make public the good deeds of local volunteers, recently acknowledged Carole Price’s 21 years of continuous volunteer service to Hospice Austin at its 55th Legends Award Ceremony. Recognize Good gives $1,000 to the honoree’s designated charity and in January and February 2017 Price will compete against other 2016 Legends for additional recognition, soliciting online votes from friends and family throughout the world. The person with the most votes will receive an additional $10,000 for his or her selected cause.

At the ceremony, former City Councilman Mike Martinez presented Price with a coffee mug, a flamboyantly large check-as-photo-op, the real check to benefit Hospice Austin’s Christopher House, a small photo album and a bromeliad he described as a “living remembrance of today’s ceremony.”  

“You want me to keep this alive?” quipped Price as she received the potted plant. “You know I’m a hospice worker, right?”

It was a classic retort from the Scottish-born Price who continued to deflect attention from her own good deeds by thanking the patients she faithfully attends to every Tuesday. “They come here and allow us the privilege of serving them and lighting their path so they can have the dignified death I think everyone deserves.”  She then thanked her colleagues and fellow volunteers.

It may seem oxymoronic that someone like Price with her broad smile, outspoken nature and determinedly positive attitude toward shaping her own life and that of her friends and family would immerse herself in the world of the dying, but it is not.  In the NPR Story Corps segment she taped with her longtime friend Chaka Ken-Varley in the summer of 2015, she says, “Birth and death are the same door, just different sides. With both you know something monumental is about to happen, people are gathering, and there will be food!”

Price pronounces “food” as “fud” in the Scottish way, a link to her Glasgow roots as is her service to Hospice Austin. Her parents, Tony and Audrey Goodman were life long hospice volunteers, modeling a commitment to community that their daughter took on as her own. Audrey served as a receptionist at the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice while Tony collected donation cans earmarked for the group and sat in the facility’s basement tallying the money and separating out the occasional foreign coins. Price takes pride not only in being a second-generation hospice volunteer, but also in watching as her children Emily and Alyssa continue the family tradition. Each chose Hospice Austin as her Bat Mitzvah volunteer project years ago and, when they’re in town, help serve Christmas dinner to Christopher House patients and their families.

When asked if the death of her father and then her mother impacted her work with hospice Price is quick to set the matter straight. “It’s actually the other way around,” she says. “My hospice work impacted my [experience of] my parents’ death and dying.” Among other things, she became acutely aware of the importance of advance directives and living wills, and adds that without hospice experience, “I wouldn’t have been comfortable calling hospice as early on as I did…. I wouldn’t have recognized what was going on.”  Hospice Austin insists volunteers take a leave of absence after the death of a close family member, a policy Price attributes to the very human need for people to tell their story after the passing of a loved one. It would be inappropriate, she says, for volunteers to try to insert their own stories into the experience of the families they are there to comfort. (It might also be inappropriate to disclose here that Carole is part of the story of my own mother’s last days when she, my sister and I sang some of Mom’s favorite songs—Barry Manilow!—at her bedside.)

Price began her involvement with the dying in nursing homes and individual family settings prior to the time that Christopher House became part of Hospice Austin. Eighteen years ago she was one of the first to offer her services at the in-patient facility and has filled a number of roles there since that time. “She will do whatever is needed,” writes Rev. Nancy McCrainie, Director of Volunteer and Bereavement Services at Hospice Austin, “from folding linens and making coffee to organizing huge fundraisers and managing strategic partnerships.”  It was McCrainie who nominated Price last year for the Legends Award. “We all want to be seen for what we’re doing,” says McCrainie who found it challenging to single out only one of over 400 dedicated hospice volunteers. But when she considered Price’s consistent, 20-year record of service and the myriad creative ways she has served Hospice Austin, she had no reservations about passing her name along. “I knew she’d get the award,” she says. 

Price’s contributions include having begun an annual Christmas meal tradition for patients and their families—her husband Kerry delivers food and carves the turkey—and convincing Whole Foods to provide weekly flowers for Christopher House. The organization’s food pantry is stocked because of her outreach to Keep Austin Fed, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and to her neighbors (she organizes an annual food drive) and friends. “Even when Carole has birthday parties she has people bring canned goods to donate to the pantry,” says Ken-Varley.  Friends received e-mails noting that her husband would match any donations to Christopher House made in honor of her Legends award, more than doubling, as it turned out, Recognize Good’s initial gift.

Price also serves as one of eight trained “bath angels,” special volunteers who assist nurses with this most intimate chore. When asked how she does it, she says, “because I can,” in her customary forthright way. Price gives herself no special pat on the back for her hands-on efforts and readily admits to her limitations (she can’t handle vomit). She simply urges everyone—especially her daughters—to find whatever it is that they can do and do it. “It’s very easy to give money, especially when you’re wealthy, says Price. “But it’s harder to get in the car once a week and be present…. Not everybody in hospice is unfortunate or suffering. They’re just dying. We all will.”

The Jewish sensibility inherent in Price’s commitment to her Tuesday routine at Christopher House was touched on at the Legends Ceremony by Rev. McCrainie who offered an in-depth explanation of Tikkun Olam. Next, in a moving gesture of friendship, Price’s friend Harriet Kirsh Pozen introduced her to the gathering and sang the priestly blessing in English and in Hebrew.
Later, in response, the volunteer coordinator who began her work with Christopher House as a chaplain says of Price, “She is one of a kind!”       

Indeed, she is. 

“Maybe I’m a zealot who thinks her path is right,” Price says, returning as always to the idea that is at the core of her commitment to Hospice Austin. “’Good death’ is not an oxymoron. It’s possible. I’ve seen it. I’ve invested 21 years of my life into this concept.” She goes on to say that the greatest gift we can give our children and grandchildren is to tell them what we want them to do—and not do—for us at the end of life, referring everyone who will listen to Ellen Goodman’s “Conversation Project” (theconversationproject.org) for further advice and counseling on the subject.

For her part, Carole Price’s compassion for the dying and their family members guides her every gesture whether taking time to choose which flowered pillowcase to use as she changes a patient’s bed linens or simply listening to their stories. “They see that someone has taken their time as a volunteer to do that for them,” she explains. “Wouldn’t you want that for you? For your family?”

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