He first served his country as a Seabee in the U.S. Navy from 1979 to 1984. Now Mark Pierce of Danbury has been called to serve by helping fellow Veterans at the end of their lives.
Mark admits that he is the last guy anyone would expect to be volunteering with hospice. As he puts it, “I‘m very involved with my church, but I’m not a touchy-feely kind of guy.” While he never intended to work with hospice patients, once he heard Mary Beth Hickey, Volunteer Director for Regional Hospice and Palliative Care, speak about the Veteran-to-Veteran program, Mark was committed.
“I love it. I get a lot of peace there,” Mark explained. His sister-in-law had been at the Center for Comfort Care and Healing for 3 months in 2015 before she died. Mark’s family spent countless hours visiting her, giving Pierce a strong sense of the value of compassionate hospice care. “I like the whole process,” he said, “It is important work that gives people dignity and support.”
Recently Mark was called into action to help a local Veteran. Eugene, who was in his 70s and in need of hospice care due to progressing cancer. Like Mark, Eugene had been in the Navy. He served aboard the famous USS Enterprise. Since leaving the military, Eugene had an interesting and colorful life. Due to the limitations of his illness, he was not able to say much, but the two men formed a wonderful bond none-the-less.
A former biker, Eugene enjoyed riding along in Pierce’s 1959 Ford Pickup. Mark, who by his own admission tends to be quite talkative, let Eugene guide their visits which were taking place 3 days per week until Eugene passed away at the end of 2016.
As soon as Mark would enter Eugene’s home, “He was eager to go,” Mark shared. The two rode around taking in the snowy beauty of Candlewood Lake and Sherman, and visiting Ridgefield. Mark was also instrumental in getting Eugene to two area Christmas parties that Anne-Marie Keegan, Regional Hospice Social Worker, arranged for with the help of Home Health Aide Paul Aliot, based on Eugene’s final wishes.
Mark really enjoyed the regular drives with Eugene exclaiming, “I got as much out of it as he did.” In addition to Eugene being a Veteran, there were other meaningful connections that confirmed to Mark that the two were meant to meet. The home where Eugene was living is just minutes from where Mark lives. In addition, the name “Eugene” is quite special to Pierce as it belongs to his father, his brother, and is the middle name he gave to his son. Finally, after visiting with Eugene, Mark came home one day and turned on the television to catch a documentary on the USS Enterprise, the very vessel on which Eugene served.
Like many of Regional Hospice’s amazing volunteers, Mark humbly feels that he gets more from volunteering than he gives. He is also happy to serve, noting that the desire to help others has been nurtured by the strong women in his life – his wife of 28 years, Carla, and his mother-in-law, Betti Corso, who is a founder of the Women’s Center in Danbury. Pierce also recognizes that there aren’t nearly as many male hospice volunteers as there are women, which he feels is a shame. He has seen firsthand that men like Eugene find it helpful to have the comradery of other men with similar interests, especially at the end of life. Mark is committed to spreading the word to other males and Veterans, so that every hospice patient can be connected with a kindred volunteer in their time of need.