Hospice volunteer Sheila Holmes said she sees the best and worst in people at the end of their lives.
“I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve loved. I’ve sat in silence,” said Holmes, named Sunday by Mercy Health System as this year’s recipient of the Ruth Calta Community Service Award. “It’s absolutely amazing work.”
Holmes, of Wellington, was honored for her hospice duties as well as her work ministering to mentally and physically disabled people as a Eucharistic minister through St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Wellington and for helping provide meals to the homeless at St. Joseph Church in Lorain. Calta, who died in 2004, was one of the 40 founding members of the former Lorain Community Hospital and a founding member of the hospital’s women’s auxiliary.
Holmes was one of three finalists for the award. She was selected by a committee of the Mercy Board of Trustees, according to Mercy spokeswoman Kasha Frese.
Holmes, who worked as a dispatcher for the Avon Lake Fire Department from 1985 to 2003, said she knew little about hospice when she volunteered in 1993 or that her mother was dying of cancer. Hospice officials gave Holmes a year to grieve over her mother’s death before she began volunteering in 1994.
Holmes, who calls herself a “cradle Catholic” — a practicing Catholic since birth — said her volunteerism is part of a religious calling to give love and support.
In emotional remarks at the awards ceremony, Holmes referred to Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us.”
Holmes also thanked Robert Holmes — her husband since 1964 — and their five children as well as her fellow hospice volunteers.
“Our motto at hospice is, ‘We celebrate life every day,’ ” she told the audience at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Lorain. “I love what I do, but only by the grace of God can I do it.”
Holmes credits God with her ability to cope with the sadness of working with the terminally ill — “I can cry with the best of them” — combining empathy with humor. She cites an elderly man tenderly caring for his wife who was dying of Alzheimer’s disease as one of her most bittersweet experiences as a volunteer.
“You see things you would not be privileged to see,” Holmes said in an interview. “That’s one of the saddest things to me: I get to meet these people I wish I could’ve known when they were healthy.”
Holmes said she was apprehensive about whether she could handle ministering to mentally disabled people — “my folks” — but found it an avenue to spread love. Her work preparing food for the homeless can be exhausting, but she said the need is growing due to sky-high unemployment and under employment due to the abysmal economy.
At 68, Holmes said she plans to continue her busy schedule while still finding time for her husband, family and gardening.
“My goal is to get to heaven, (but) not today,” she said. “I’ve been very blessed.”
Photographer Chuck Humel contributed to this story. Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.