The face in the hospital bed is familiar, if aged about 10 years.
“I knew I would get to see you again today, because it’s Sunday,” says the patient.
Spiritual care volunteer Marie Spetch remembers the patient from a stay at Ridge Meadows Hospital about a decade earlier. She sits down next to her bed to get reacquainted.
“And then we’re like old friends together again,” says Spetch. “After a while, you get to know people.”
Spetch never misses a Sunday, and the familiar face to hospital patients is a super senior who visits patients at the hospital at least three or four times per week, for four or five hours at a time. It’s been her routine for the last 24 years.
The Fraser Health Authority honoured the 90-year-old chaplain yesterday in Surrey with an Above and Beyond Award for her dedication to the hospital.
Even when she faced her own health challenges, she has been at the hospital regularly. Sometimes she’s there every day, depending on how many people there want a visit. Generally she has 10-14 referrals at a time. She doesn’t place any time limit on her visits.
Spetch isn’t going into the hospital trying to win converts. Hospitals are secular.
“We don’t go in with any agenda. We go in and see what they want.
“Most of the job is listening. If they ask for prayers, then we pray, and we make sure they’re happy when we leave.”
She was raised High Anglican and later converted to Catholicism, but she will pray with a Buddhist, Mormon, Sikh or person of any faith.
“Once we got into that hospital, we have no denomination at all.”
Religion is just another tool in her toolkit.
“It’s there, but we don’t use it unless we’re asked.”
Some patients are weak, and just being alert – trying to be polite company for a visit – leaves them exhausted.
Many of them are in pain.
Many more are lonely.
Some will eventually become friends, and for some she bears witness as they pass away.
“You sit with the dying a the hospice. You sit with people who haven’t got anybody, so that they’re not alone.”
The job doesn’t get her down.
“It’s another way of giving community service, and love. When you come out [of the hospital], it’s a relief, because you’re tired. But you’re ready for the next day.”
Spetch lived in Quebec as a young woman, then raised her family in New Zealand, where she lived for 27 years and worked as a postmistress.
In 1970, she moved to Maple Ridge, working at a school for the deaf, then with the corrections branch at a youth detention facility in Burnaby. Her volunteer work at the hospital only came after she retired.
The award took her by surprise.
“I’m amazed. I’m not used to that. I like working behind the scenes, for the satisfaction of it.”
And volunteering hasn’t been without its own rewards.
“It’s kept me going. I love what I do,” she said.
“The older I get, you’ve got to keep busy so you don’t lose it. My kids say I’ve lost it anyway,” she said with a laugh.
She hasn’t lost anything, according to the hospital’s volunteer resource coordinator, Rhonda L’Abbe, who has known Spetch for about seven years.
L’Abbe describes her as a “go-getter,” with more energy and initiative than people half her age.
“She has been the most dedicated volunteer,” said L’Abbe. “She’s been a real asset to the hospital and patients miss her when she’s not here.
“It’s who she is as a person – she lives and breathes volunteering.”
Spetch doesn’t see herself quitting.
“I love it. It’s people.
“If you can give people hope, or make their day better than what it was, then that’s worth it.”