Anne Liming of Deerwood has lived through tough times as an Army Reservist during the Vietnam War, but she now provides comfort to the terminally ill as a St. Croix Hospice volunteer.

Veterans Day is special to the veteran-to-veteran volunteer. The 68-year-old mother of two began volunteering with the Brainerd branch of St. Croix Hospice four years ago.

“My parents and my husband all had hospice care,” Liming said. “I have a sister who’s a hospice nurse, a niece that’s a palliative care nurse and so it’s been something I’ve been very familiar with … so I thought this might be a good volunteer opportunity for me and has been.”

Hospice Volunteer Helps Terminally Ill Veterans

Hospice helped ease the passing of Liming’s parents in 2011 and 2015, and her husband in 2013, so becoming a hospice volunteer came naturally to Liming, who developed a deep personal appreciation for hospice care.

“As a volunteer, what you’re doing is basically just interacting with the person and visiting with them and relieving the family of some of the stress and obligation they feel to spend time with somebody going through this process,” she said.

Liming offers companionship and vigil support to those with advanced illnesses — many of whom have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Her past life as a Vietnam-era veteran makes her especially able to bond with fellow service members.

“My very first hospice client was a military veteran. I found we shared a commonality — a vocabulary, a culture and a knowledge of how the military works. And they’re more willing to have those conversations with you about what it was like,” she said.

“The military is a different culture than going to college or going to work at a bank. For my patients who have dementia, their more recent memory may be gone, but their memories of military service are intact.”

Liming joined the Army in 1972 during the Vietnam War, went to basic training in Alabama and was initially assigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis doing personnel work for the Army before working in Washington, D.C., in 1973 with the Army chief of staff.

Anne Liming spends time in the U.S. Army Reserve at Fort Ripley in 1976. Submitted photo
Anne Liming spends time in the U.S. Army Reserve at Fort Ripley in 1976. Submitted photo

“I needed my parents’ consent to join the Army. I was 20 years old. I had friends that had gotten drafted — people I went to high school with,” Liming said.

The names of 57,939 American men and women killed or missing in the war were inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and later additions brought that total to 58,200, according to History.com.

“I remember standing at a party one night, and we were talking about Vietnam … and thought if I’m going to talk about it — and say I support it or don’t support it -- I should do something and that’s why I joined,” Liming said of enlisting in the Army.

She said what she finds most personally rewarding is hearing peoples’ stories, and while she cannot get into specifics concerning individual patients due to privacy laws, she said many veteran clients have fascinating stories and memories to share.

“It’s really all about connecting with another person,” Liming said of volunteering. “I do it because I enjoy the interaction with these people. … We’re going through a journey that I’m walking with them through that journey.”

Liming will take nursing home residents, for example, for walks down a special wing of the facility that is decorated with mannequins wearing military attire.

“I talk to them about which uniform they wore — things like that,” Liming said. “We all want to connect with another person. Why would that desire for companionship stop once you near the end of life?”

St. Croix Hospice offers end-of-life care and advocacy to the patient, the patient's family and caregivers across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.

“I’ve done vigils in which you sit with somebody that doesn’t have family or they can’t be there when the patient is in their final stages, and it’s to bring peace to somebody, to give back to somebody, to show they have value as a person,” Liming said.