Interview
02/10/2023

Helping Hands @Burda: Irmgard Giordano

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Many Burda employees are involved in voluntary or social work, take on responsibility and help other people in their free time. Today, Burda colleague Irmgard Giordano presents her heartfelt commitment.

Irmgard Giordano works in the Media Sales department at BCN. And since July 2020, she has had a "second job" as a now "working pensioner" at the non-profit Hospizverein Offenburg e.V., which was founded in 1992. Here Irmgard reveals why she is involved there and how valuable her very personal and loving help is for these people.

 

What does the work at the Hospizverein Offenburg e.V.  look like?  

The Hospizverein is a non-profit registered association that works on a voluntary basis and with professional support. It supports the seriously ill and dying as well as their relatives so that they can experience this decisive phase of life in dignity and autonomy. Support begins wherever the person is at the end of their life. At home, in a care facility or even in hospital. The association offers grief counselling in the form of one-to-one conversations, counselling sessions or long-term grief counselling by trained volunteers. It advises on living wills and advanced health care proxies and provides training for medical and nursing professionals as well as for other interested groups. The association also trains volunteers as death and grief counsellors in accordance with the national curriculum.

Can you give us an example?

A woman wants to care for her seriously ill husband at home. The family is at the end of its tether because the person in need of care is very restless and the prescribed medication does not work as hoped; bureaucracy and an opaque network of support services unfortunatley do not make the situation any easier. However, the person in need of care expresses the explicit wish to die at home. In this case, the hospice association arranges help through the responsible SAPV team. The family doctor must first write a prescription for this. The SAPV team then has the task of providing special palliative symptom treatment to relieve the symptoms.

At the same time, a volunteer from the hospice association is assigned to provide support, relief and advice to the family. This frees up time for the carer and gives them the secure feeling that they are doing the best possible for the person in need of care. The hospice association mediates between the various interfaces of the health care system, guiding relatives and/or the seriously ill through the range of help available, often bringing peace and security to an already very stressful situation. Family members have time and space to turn to each other and to spend the time before death together. Dying and death are unfortunately taboo in our western "civilisation".

Why is dying such a taboo subject?  

In Germany, the western culture, dying, death and mourning have slipped completely into the private sphere. On the one hand, it has to do with the fact that the majority of people now die in nursing homes and clinics. In the past, the neighbour really did die "next door". As a child, you already experienced dying. Today, you can easily live to be 60 years old without ever having seen a dead person or being directly confronted with it. As a result, many people lose their inner access to this subject and are quickly overwhelmed.  

How do you personally deal with this constant psychological strain?

As volunteers we regularly receive mandatory practical support and supervision (also with external counsellors). If necessary, individual discussions with the head of the association are offered. Caring for volunteers is a priority. For board members, volunteers and staff alike, it is important to maintain one's own boundaries and good self-care (psychological hygiene). Creating one's own calm points strengthens one for the important work in the long term. I know this from my own experience because I am currently caring for my sick daughter. 

How do you help terminally ill people maintain some quality of life in their last days?  

The association helps with presence and care during the last days of life. The wishes of the seriously ill and dying person have priority and we always try to meet them. The associations role is to care, give orientation and support in difficult times.

What can relatives and friends do to make saying goodbye easier?

Each person has to answer this question individually. However, it is always particularly important to build on one's own strengths. Ways to find one's own strength can be in rituals, in creating places of mourning, in early grief counselling, through strong family support, but also seeking out solitude or therapeutic help. For the transition, medical help in the form of medication can also be helpful, for example to aid sleep. The hospice movement would like to see more openness here so that people who accept professional medical help are not stigmatised. It is essential to have contact points where the experience can be processed through communication.

How could we as a society deal better with dying?

Compared to the death of children or humanitarian disasters, the death of (very old) adults is considered "normal". This view is not fundamentally wrong, but it forgets that old people also have fears and sufferings that make dying difficult for them. It forgets that relatives are still losing their mother or father and that this can be very painful and difficult. Society only conditionally admits grief for the aged parent, while grief for a child, for example, is allowed to be omnipresent. This phenomenon is called "disenfranchised mourning" and represents a taboo that the hospice association is constantly trying to break down. The younger a person is when he or she dies, the more likely it is that grief is conceded. Dying and mourning are as individual as each person. The Hospizverein Offenburg e.V. has therefore been working for almost 30 years to ensure that every person finds recognition and space in their dying and mourning.

 

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Eigentlich ist Irmgard Giordano mit 71 Jahren schon in Rente, aber sie arbeitet trotzdem noch vier Stunden am Tag bei Burda © HBM

The board of the hospice association (from left): Felix Fels (treasurer), Monika Lubitz(head of outreach), Bernd Hug (deputy chairman), Nicole Hurst (head of the office), Helmut Ellensohn (chairman), Helmut Ellensohn (Chairman), Doris Haug (Deputy Chairman) and Irmrad Giordano © HBM

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