Good Neighbor Bobbie Tugwell: Helping Ease the Pain of Loss

“Almost all the Volunteers have been touched by death. They’ve watched the process and want to give something back in honor of the people they loved.”

To the terminally ill who want to die at home and the family members who care for them, Barbara (Bobbie) Tugwell is a companion, a helpmate, and a guide in the bittersweet process of saying goodbye and letting go.

It’s intense, emotional work, but Tugwell, a soft-spoken Southern lady who has been a volunteer with Hospice of Baton Rouge since 1990, says she’s honored to be doing it.

“I love Hospice so much. And I owe them so much,” she says. “I wouldn’t have made it through my first husband’s illness without them.”

The mother of two and grandmother of five turned to Hospice in 1988, when her husband of 21 years, Louis Herrmann, was dying of brain cancer. Herrmann passed away on Christmas Eve in 1989.

“Right after that, I went to work for Hospice,” says Tugwell.

Last year alone, Tugwell devoted more than 1,000 hours of volunteer time to Hospice, leading fund-raising efforts that brought in more than $100,000. She also works one-on-one with patients and their families and serves on the Governor’s Advisory Committee for Hospice Care for the State of Louisiana, a group helping to shape the future of hospice care in the state.

Hospice provides medical care and emotional, psychological, and spiritual support to people in the advanced stages of an incurable illness. Typically, patients remain at home and are cared for by family members, with a team of hospice workers and volunteers on call 24 hours a day.

The nonprofit Hospice of Baton Rouge works with about 750 patients a year, most in their 60s and 70s, and has touched the lives of an estimated 7,000 families since it was established in 1984, says Executive Director Kathryn S. Grigsby. The organization has never turned away a patient because of an inability to pay for services. “Hospice’s mission,” she says, “is to ensure that no one dies alone or in pain.”

Volunteers’ visits provide emotional support and allow family members time away to grocery shop, go to the bank, and attend to other essential life tasks.

Tugwell works with three to five families a year as a respite care provider. Initially, though, she got involved in fund-raising, because Hospice precludes relatives of deceased patients from doing direct care work for two years following the patient’s death. She organized a decorator show house and recruited hundreds of volunteers, including many Realtors®, to staff it. For the 2002 show house, Tugwell recruited and organized more than 500 people to serve as hosts and hostesses during the 10-day event, says Grigsby.

Tugwell began working directly with families in 1993. Her first case was a three-week-old infant named Gracie. “Gracie’s mother had known from the fifth month of her pregnancy that this child, her first, had a problem,” says Tugwell, describing the baby’s illness as a genetic anomaly. “It was so difficult. The parents hardly ever slept, and the mother never left the house. She was so afraid of not being with her child in her last moments.”

Gracie died after six months. “Any time there’s a baby or child involved, it’s so hard,” Tugwell says quietly. But the couple went on to have two healthy children. Tugwell knows because she has stayed in touch.

“I marvel at Bobbie’s positive, upbeat attitude,” says Grigsby. “She’s the perfect volunteer. In the 15 years I’ve known her, I can’t remember her ever being too busy to help. She does it all—fund-raising, administration, volunteer training, in-home patient care—and always with a smile.”

“I certainly don’t mind begging for money,” Tugwell says with a laugh. But it’s providing direct help and support to the families of patients that she likes best.

“To have the opportunity to share a family’s life with them at such a difficult time—but also a time that can be filled with so much grace and peace—is such an honor,” she says. “It really humbles me.”

How to contact Bobbie Tugwell <<

Bobbie Tugwell, GRI, CRS
ERA Stirling Properties
9311-A Bluebonnet
Baton Rouge, LA 70810

Hospice of Baton Rouge
9063 Seigen Lane, Suite A
Baton Rouge, LA 70809