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Abiders help ease families peace of mind

Pastor Barb Christenson and Dick Ashmun discussed the Abiders program at Good Sa1 / 2
Kris Matich and Dick Ashmun earlier this month comforted a woman in the Good Sam2 / 2

Having a loved one in hospice care takes an emotional toll on people and when Baxter resident Sherry Manke’s mother was dying it was no different.

Manke’s mother, Geraldine “Gerry” Pratt passed away Feb. 18. Manke said she moved her mother to the Good Samaritan Society-Woodland (GSS) about four years ago in an assisted living apartment. However as the years went by, Alzheimer’s disease took its toll on Geraldine and she eventually was moved to Woodland’s care center. As Geraldine’s health declined, Manke wanted to be by her mother’s side every day and who could blame her? Manke tried to stay overnight with her mother, but she didn’t get much sleep as the nurses would check in periodically on her mother. She’d wake up wiped out. Manke knew that she had to take care of herself, but she didn’t feel right leaving her dying mother alone.

That’s when Woodland staff told Manke about the Abiders Ministry.

Abiders Ministry is a group of volunteers who have been trained by professional staff at Bethany or Woodland who serve dying residents when there are no family members or friends available to be present at the time of death.

Woodland pastor Barb Christenson said the Abiders Ministry does not replace GSS’s nursing, medical or pastoral staff.

“The abiders are volunteers who are either residents, staff or community members,” said Christenson. “They are trained and they can use a cool wash cloth on the residents, they can talk to them, pray with them or read.They basically are providing a presence for the loved one who is dying.”

Christenson said GSS-Bethany’s former pastor, Lilja Behr, brought the idea of the Abiders Ministry to GSS.

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Christenson. “It helps families who live out of town or for the families who are worn out. There was one daughter who worked all day and then would be here all night and once we told her about the Abiders Ministry she was so thankful.”

Christenson said the importance of the Abiders Ministry is to assure all involved that no one has to die alone.

“Death is a scary experience and we don’t know what it’s going to be like,” said Christenson. “What we can do is sit with them and hold their hand and not let go. This program is a great relief for families. They need someone with Mom or Dad. It means a lot to them.”

Christenson said being an abider is a commitment as the two-hour shifts range from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Christenson said the average age of an abider is early 50s, but people of all ages can volunteer. Christenson said they have an abider who is in their early 20s to the oldest at age 83.

“That would be me,” said Dick Ashmun of Baxter, who volunteers as an abider. Ashmun said people could say that he was an abider to his wife, who died about three years ago. Ashmun said he sat with his wife almost every day while she was at the care center.

“In the end, she wasn’t too responsive, but I got a feeling with her,” said Ashmun. “A kind, loving presence with her. That even though she wasn’t responsive she knew I was with her.”

Ashmun said his experience with his wife made him want to be an abider to families who need someone to sit with their loved ones. Ashmun said that when he is at Woodland or Bethany, especially at night he can feel God’s presence.

Ashmun, who has been an abider with about a dozen residents, said the experience has brought him a lot of appreciation for the dying process and about his wife.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction in being an abider,” said Ashmun. “People are so appreciative. One lady was so dog tired and we can offer her a break to get charged up so she can spend the time with her loved one.”

Vivian Bolles, who lives in the apartments at Woodland, has known many of the residents she has been an abider too. She’s been an abider since 2005, the year the program started.

“I stopped to think, ‘How would I feel if my family couldn’t be here if I was dying?’” Bolles said. “So I started being an abider. I get a lot of benefits out of it. Families are so appreciative.”

Kris Matich, activities director at Woodland, said Bolles has never told her no when asked if she can be an abider for someone.

Bolles said, “I appreciate the dying process so much more now. God has his plan and that’s the way it is. It (being an abider) helped me understand. It’ll happen when God wants it too.”

Ashmun said, “People think life ends when they die and that’s the way they feel. But life goes on, especially if you’re a believer. This (being an abider) is getting me ready for the next world and has given me a lot of confidence.”

Manke said the Abiders Ministry is wonderful and such a selfish act by the volunteers.

“I had to bring my mom here from Michigan when she couldn’t live on her own anymore,” said Manke. “If she wasn’t here how would you take care of them with a long distance?”

Manke said it made her feel good knowing that someone was there for her mother “when things were getting pretty bad.”

“I was there when she died,” said Manke. “I feel at peace, my mom is at peace. I know that she knew when I was there and someone was there with her at night. I have a good friend here, who sat with my mom one night and when I went to see my mom the next day there was a note that said, ‘I was honored to sit with your mom for a few days.’ That meant so much to me.”

Manke said when Woodland suggested that she use an abider, she was just exhausted after a long two weeks. Manke said it helped her get through the final days of her mother’s life.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851.