Long-time volunteer Judy Bornstein fondly remembers a phone call she received from CEO Bob Franko shortly after the COVID shutdown began. “How are you doing, Judy?” he asked. She said, “I’m OK.” “No, how are you doing?” he persisted. OK, she had to admit, “I feel lost.”
Judy is the celebrated hospice “singing lady,” a woman with a rich, golden voice who delivers comfort to patients, families, and everyone within earshot by singing their favorite hymns at the bedside. When challenged years back by an attorney friend, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” Judy answered, “Sing and sing and sing.” And he connected her with someone who needed the comfort of her voice. Soon, she sought out VNA as her conduit to caring. “I felt led to call VNA and ask if they had volunteers who go to besides and sing old hymns.” VNA welcomed her into the volunteer force, and she’s been serving ever since.
“The blessings in my life began then, at age 72,” she says. Now 84, she says she has never felt so contented and fulfilled. “Not a lot of people find such joy in their lives,” she believes. Her experiences have given her such deep contentment that she authored a book, Hold My Hand, to share her stories about the blessings of volunteering.
Today, she’s writing a second book to share her own story and relate the special gifts that can be shared at the end of life.
So it’s no wonder Judy felt lost when isolation began. “Bob’s answer to me was: ‘For 12 years, you’ve offered compassion when people were grieving. Now you are grieving.’” And this was the start of a workaround. “That afternoon, I called several nursing homes where I had sung to people and asked for phone numbers of people who would like to hear from me.” And the calls go both ways: “I recently received a call to calm a highly agitated patient. I just begin singing over the phone, and they were immediately able to relax and sleep.” She admits one of the facilities she visits calls her “the Pied Piper."
Determined and fueled with boundless passion, Judy insists, “I’m not going to let COVID stop me.” She has a patient who is 104. “I call her every day and sing to her on the phone.”