When Gary Haynes was a high school teacher in Mission Viejo, he would sometimes see a kid sitting alone at lunch. He’d walk up and tell that student he or she was welcome to hang in his classroom any day. Every day at lunch, Gary would have up to 80 kids in his room.
“They just needed some place to go,” Gary said. “The room was always happy and full of laughter.”
That kind of sensibility made Gary the ideal volunteer for a special program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center called No One Dies Alone, which is run by Chaplain Anette Rihovsky. The program calls upon a volunteer to be with a dying patient during the last hours of life who may not have any family or friends nearby.
“Gary has a very tender heart to be present with people when they are dying,” said Anette. He will come and sit with the patient, read to them, pray, or play music. He can also write a note from the patient to give to the family.
“One time, after the patient passed, his daughter arrived later, so I described what had taken place, and how he died with honor and dignity,” said Gary. “I don’t ever want anyone to be alone during that time.”
Gary, a young 77, also volunteers in the emergency room, where his daughter is a nurse. As patients come in, he sits with them and explains what will happen next.
“I say to them, ‘When you come through the door, you are family. We are a family here, and this is a family hospital. I know it’s scary, but you are surrounded by love.’ “
He truly understands the value of listening to someone who might be having a rough day.
What is even more extraordinary is that Gary himself is battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. Throughout the long fight, he says Saddleback Medical Center saved his life three times. He will take a break from volunteering while undergoing treatments, but he always finds his way back, taking on four- or seven-hour shifts with an upbeat attitude.
For Gary, seeing the incredible kindness and amazing care the staff provides at all hours of the night, volunteering at Saddleback Memorial is like “going to church” for him.
“When I leave this hospital, I feel as though I’ve walked among angels."