It's a ministry, not a job.
That's what five women who recently celebrated 20 years of service at Palliative CareCenter and Hospice of Catawba Valley will tell you about the past two decades of their lives.
They've laughed together, cried together and prayed together and with their patients. And as they look back on the changing landscape of PCHCV, its patients and its services, the women see an opportunity to continue fulfilling Catawba County's need for end-of-life care.
"We have grown so much, and to look at these lands in these buildings, it's just amazing," said Jan Sigmon, who has been at PCHCV for 20 years.
When the 20-year veterans joined PCHCV in the early 1990s, the organization operated out of the Willard House in Hickory. The space was small, but the women worked with what they had. They stored medical charts in the house's upstairs bathroom and supplies in the garage.
Now, PCHCV has a 21-bed facility on Robinson Road in Newton and is set to open another facility in August to serve Catawba County's Sherrills Ford community.
"We are being told over and over again that the elderly population is going to explode," said Caron Tucker, a registered nurse who joined PCHCV in 1990. "And we're trying to prepare for that.
But as much as these women have done for PCHCV, they insist the program has given them even more. Many people ask the women how they do their jobs, where death is a regular part of their workday.
The women say PCHCV isn't about death. Instead, it's about the life shared with families and staff members during some of the most difficult times they've known.
"It's the most rewarding job that you've ever had," said Paige Yount, who joined the PCHCV team in 1991.
The emotional connection between families and staff members continues beyond the time a patient spends at PCHCV. The women said they're approached regularly, with tears and open arms, by people PCHCV served.
"(Sometimes) you have no idea who they are, but they know you," said Gail Jonas, who volunteers for PCHCV in addition to serving the organization since 1991.
The women believe in their work, not just because it's a rewarding career, but because PCHCV served their families, just as those women served others. Both Sigmon's parents died at PCHCV.
"There's no greater thing than to know that your family is taken care of," she said.
One of her parents also died at PCHCV, and that experience helped her become better at her job.
"It gave me a second breath of have compassion when I work here," she said.
But working at PCHCV isn't just about times of sadness. The 20-year veterans laugh and talk together like friends, sharing memories about patients and their families.
Marsha Lynn, who started at PCHCV in 1990, recalled making a video with a 25-year-old mother of three children diagnosed with cancer. They made the video detailing the mother's favorite things, so her children could watch the video and remember her after she died.
Lynn stayed in touch with the woman's daughter, who was about 7 years old at the time. Now, the daughter is a mother herself. She told Lynn she shows the video to her children, so they know who their grandmother was.
Sigmon literally gave the shoes off her feet to one 90-year-old patient who admired Sigmon's ballerina flats.
"She just loved my shoes," Sigmon said. "I took my shoes off and put them on her little feet, and she was just swinging her feet with them on."
The stories continue. Each woman has a different set of stories. When one woman mentions a patient the other women remember, they reminisce together.
Like birth, death is a time when families come together. The women said that, while birth is a very heart-pounding, intense moment, death at PCHCV is different.
"It's a very peaceful, loving moment," Jonas said, "and I'm glad I can be there."