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Faye Sparkman doesn't mind taking on other's heavy loads

By Staff
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
In today's world we hear about so many people who expect so much from others-from the government, from their communities, even from their churches. Our perceptions of a world full of "takers" make it even more notable when one comes across a person who finds her greatest joy in giving to others. Faye Sparkman is just such a person.
Hospice of the Valley chose these words to begin its nomination of Faye Sparkman of Hartselle as last year's Volunteer Center of Morgan County Volunteer of the Year.
Although she was not chosen to receive the award, Sparkman was honored and humbled by the nomination and the kind words written by Hospice of the Valley–an organization she has eagerly volunteered with for three years.
"I would do it everyday if they would let me," Sparkman said. "It may seem sad to some, but it's something I can do and do well. People ask me all the time how I do it, and I tell them because I love it."
Hospice of the Valley provides end-of-life care and grief and bereavement services to residents of Morgan and Lawrence counties, including nursing care, home health aides, medical equipment and supplies, support from social workers and chaplains, and volunteers.
What Sparkman does as a patient care volunteer is visit with patients in their homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and the hospital. Depending on the needs of the patient and family, volunteers can provide companionship to patients or respite care for weary caregivers.
However, Hospice of the Valley knows Sparkman's 40 years of prior experience working in hospitals and doctors' offices as a nurse benefits the program and the patients in a special way.
Faye is willing to spend time with patients that many would find difficult to care for, never hesitating to step in and help out in the most demanding of situations. She has cared for patients with cancer, Alzheimer's disease, heart failure, and Lou Gehrig's disease, sometimes where challenging family circumstances are also present.
While the standard workload for most patient care volunteers is one patient per week, Faye typically visits with two and sometimes even three patients each week. She willingly drives long distances-sometimes over 200 miles in one month-to sit with patients in heartbreaking circumstances either to provide the patient with companionship or the patient caregiver with a brief respite from care giving. Never one to refuse extra assignments, Faye is reluctant to take a break from her Hospice work, even to go on vacation.
"I've seen bad things and I've seen worse things, but I've never worked with a bad patient or family," Sparkman said. "No matter what kind of day I'm having, I always leave on cloud nine after I've been with a patient. I just don't have the words to describe how much I look forward to it."
Sparkman provides tender loving care to Hospice patients by holding hands, brushing hair, applying lotion, painting fingernails, singing, reading, talking or being quiet.
"One patient was 97 years old and had never once had her fingernails polished," Sparkman recalled. "I painted them bright red ever time I saw her. She loved it."
She brings a smile to the faces of many patients and families as she walks into their homes, even if it is for the very first time. When one meets Faye, one sees an attractive Southern lady who looks as if she simply would not allow any problems into her life.
"When I meet a patient, I hug them and tell them we'll do whatever they feel like doing," Sparkman explained. "I always give them a hug because I love to see their face brighten. I've met all kinds of people and had every kind of experience, but none has ever been bad."
Sparkman, 71, has been a nurse since she was 19 and a lifelong caregiver for members of her family in times of need, but she said she had never heard of Hospice until her sister was diagnosed with cancer and received Hospice care eight years ago.
"I didn't know they offered so many services," Sparkman said. "Hospice gives such comfort to the immediate family and caregivers, and the people who take care of the patients' physical needs are so good. It's just a wonderful program. I've learned what's important in life from Hospice."
Whether they answer phones, work with children's bereavement groups, or coordinate fundraising events, volunteers are a vital part of Hospice of the Valley and they play a crucial role in helping people on the most difficult journey they will ever have to make.
"We all have talents, and we don't use our special talents enough," Sparkman said. "We benefit spiritually and emotionally from spending time with people in need. Everyone should give volunteering a try because you're mind is taken off your own troubles and totally focused on who you're helping."
Many people allow their own problems or burdens to prevent them from helping other people, using illness, family problems, or financial considerations as excuses to concentrate on themselves rather than others in need.
In stark contrast with these people, Faye takes advantage of her volunteer work to help in her 40-year struggle with clinical depression. Though she would tell anyone that working with Hospice patients has helped her through some hard times, the care that Faye gives to others touches their lives far beyond what she would ever give herself credit for. Faye even goes so far as to say "My husband and family wish that I could volunteer every day, seven days a week because I'm much better off when I've been with a patient."
"I talk about it at church, in Sunday school and with my family and friends," Sparkman said. "God has a plan for me, and I'm sure Hospice is helping me get ready for it. I hope I can do this as long as I live."
Hospice of the Valley and its patients have the same wish for Sparkman.
At Hospice of the Valley, sometimes we wish that Faye could volunteer every day, seven days a week because our patients are much better off when they've been with her. She is a precious member of our community and our organization and we are blessed to have her.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities with Hospice of the Valley, call 350-5585.