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Time for giving back

After hospice helped during her husband’s terminal illness, Kathleen McIntyre decided to provide the same comfort to others

By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A little more than three years after her husband, Chris Rohrer, died of lung cancer, Kathleen McIntyre realized she was ready to become a hospice volunteer.

After the grieving was over, after she came to terms with the loss, the Sonoma resident knew she had something to give back. Hospice care had made such a big difference in her husband’s final days.

HELPING OTHERS: Kathleen McIntyre of Sonoma serves as a patient-care volunteer for Hospice by the Bay. (SCOTT MANCHESTER / The Press Democrat)

HELPING OTHERS: Kathleen McIntyre of Sonoma serves as a patient-care volunteer for Hospice by the Bay. (SCOTT MANCHESTER / The Press Democrat)

“I wanted to take my experience and give people the same kind of help or relief that I got from hospice,” she said.

McIntyre, 69, is a patient-care volunteer for Hospice by the Bay, the second-oldest hospice in the country. Founded in 1975, the organization has been serving Sonoma County for 21 years.

As a patient-care volunteer, McIntyre goes to patients’ homes or care facilities. She and other volunteers offer companionship for the patient and many times relief for their main caregivers.

“You go visit like a friend,” she said. “Some of your patients can’t talk, but you’re compassionate, you’re there. You recognize that they’re still present, even when they don’t speak. I really believe there’s still an awareness.”

McIntyre was born in Kansas. A job transfer brought her to California in 1969, and she moved to Sonoma — “a nice place to land” — in 1981.

She currently works part time in the ad department at the Sonoma-Index Tribune, where she’s worked for three decades.

In 2005, her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. Rohrer did not smoke, but his parents did. His cancer progressed and he ended up requiring constant oxygen.

After several rounds of chemotherapy, she said, “all they had to offer at that point was morphine and oxygen.”

McIntyre said that her friends and family “really stepped up” and provided a complete schedule of people that could be with him.

But after a while, it became clear he needed hospice for such things as ordering medications, making hospital-bed arrangements and other practical things.

“There are so many emotional and personal decisions — they just stepped up. It was like adding to my family,” she said.

McIntyre said she realized that hospice is “part of the village that we all need.”

Just two months after starting hospice care, McIntyre’s husband died. Seven years later, death has become a intimate part of McIntyre’s life.

Kris Montgomery, a spokeswoman for Hospice by the Bay, said many of the organization’s volunteers have cared for a loved one who received hospice care.

“They realize the value of having that kind of compassionate support in the home,” Montgomery said.

McIntyre currently has six patients that she visits, three of them with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Her visits can range from 15 minutes to three hours.

“I’ve met some incredible people, some funny people,” she said. “The last things that go are hearing, music appreciation and humor.”

People often say to her that they could never do what she does. It isn’t easy, but it is part of life.

“Some I feel really attached to, and others I just feel relieved that they’re at peace,” she said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.)