When 77-year-old Jeanette Tatro heard her name being called as the Volunteer of the Year for Gulfside Regional Hospice, the Zephyrhills woman couldn’t believe her ears.
After all, she had received the award two other times in the past, and she also is the sole winner of the organization’s Spirit of Hospice Award.
It didn’t surprise her when her name was announced as one of the organization’s volunteers who had clocked more than 500 hours of service that year. But when the presenter began describing the winner of the volunteer of the year, the petite, silver-haired woman, Tatro thought the speaker was talking about someone else.
“When I heard my name announced, I was actually dumbfounded,” Tatro said. “It was unbelievable. I couldn’t move. I was shocked.”
In just a year, Tatro racked up 541 volunteer hours. She cashiered at the organization’s Zephyrhills Thrift Shoppe. She visited hospice patients. She called families through Gulfside’s bereavement program.
She helped promote the organization by working at information booths at fairs and festivals throughout Pasco County.
Kelly Milner, director of volunteer services, characterized the volunteer as “a very loving and compassionate person” who is always willing to pitch in, wherever needed.
Tatro said she became a hospice volunteer 11 years ago, a year after her husband, Edmund, died from lung cancer.
“He was actually under hospice care for one week,” Tatro said.
Her husband wanted to die at home, but he was a large man and Tatro lacked the strength to manage his care on her own. Tatro also was caring for her ill sister at the same time.
So, her husband went to Hospice House for his final days. After he died and Tatro’s sister died, the Zephyrhills woman stepped up to volunteer.
“I felt that no one should die alone,” she said. “I felt that I could help the family out in that transition, due to the fact that I had gone through it.”
Tatro said another personal loss she experienced also prepared her to help others work through their grief.
“I lost a child, and I think that’s another reason that I can relate,” Tatro said. “It was a miscarriage at five-and-a-half months,” she said. “That’s been over 55 years” ago, she said. To this day, she feels sad on the anniversary of that baby’s death.
Besides having the desire to support others through their grief and loss, Tatro has another motivation for volunteering: “It’s a give back,” she said. “I think I’ve been very blessed by the Lord and I feel I should give back. I can reach out in so many different ways. Not everybody can.”
Beyond helping others, volunteering brings her great joy.
“It’s very rewarding,” Tatro said. “You meet so many different people. There are so many stories that they have.”
Besides suffering through personal losses, Tatro has spent time with many others who have experienced a death in the family. She has been with patients as they took their final breath, and has been with families as they experienced the loss.
“Grief is different for each person,” Tatro said. Hospice is there to help — not only during the time of a loved one’s death, but also through ongoing bereavement support.
She encourages anyone who wants to be of service to consider becoming a hospice volunteer.
“We can do so much for the families,” Tatro said. “We can give them time, either to go to the store or, they might want to go out on an outing for a couple of hours. We can give them a break. They need a break.”
Not everyone is able to sit with someone who is facing the final stage of life, Tatro said. But there are plenty of other ways to help. They can volunteer at the thrift store, or help in the kitchen, or deliver meals, or work at information booths at festival and fairs.
Donating items to the thrift shop is another way to help, Tatro said. If someone has an interest in volunteering, she encourages them to give it a try.
“It is a great experience and the only way they’re going to find out is to experience it for themselves,” Tatro said.