Gaye Hieb donates about fifteen hours of her time each week volunteering for veterans, especially those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. One of her primary missions is to counsel people who are at the end stage of their life “as they transition,” she calls it.
“You accompany that person as they transition out of life so they don’t die alone. You sit vigil with them and then you honor their wishes and help their friends and family prepare a service,” Mrs. Hieb remarks.
To prepare for this work she took a one-year chaplaincy program and became a Life Celebrant. Mrs. Hieb was an HIV/Aids director and end-of-life coordinator in North Carolina before she moved to Spring Hill. Altogether, she has had approximately five years of training in Clinical Pastoral Education and other areas of counseling.
In addition to her volunteer work, Mrs. Hieb is the primary caregiver of her husband, Bob, an army veteran of Vietnam. He suffers from the effects of Agent Orange, which has impacted many of his organs and he is in the early stages of dementia. In addition, the doctors recently discovered that he had cancerous lesions.
However, Gaye and her husband have not let his medical issues hold either of them back from living life to the fullest. He often accompanies her while she visits with veterans and spends time talking with them. Bob and the other veterans share stories about their military experiences. Because they both have a strong faith and a belief that our life here on earth is just a stopping place, they have decided not to take any extraordinary measures to prolong his life.
“We are bound for bigger and better things. This is just a place to prepare us for our coming home,” Mrs. Hieb states.
This is the philosophy she shares with the people she counsels as she helps them transition. Not everyone Gaye sits with accepts their passing on.
“Many are angry with God and with their families. They’re despondent about their lives and the things they didn’t accomplish and it’s my job to bring it back to helping them have an understanding of God and His plan for us. You have to hang on to the wonderful moments.”
Gaye tells them that they have a purpose and a mission here on this earth and that we never know what the accomplishments of our children or grandchildren will be. She tells them to focus on their gifts rather than their disappointments.
Although Mrs. Hieb is a life-long Roman Catholic, she gives spiritual guidance and conducts services for people of all faiths−Hindu, Jewish, Protestant, even non-traditional Earth-centered religions. Two aspects of her faith influence her philosophy and her work. One is the international Maryknoll missionary movement and the other is her status as a Third Order Franciscan.
The Maryknoll movement is made up of priests, nuns, and lay people who work in foreign countries and in the United States spreading their faith and doing charitable work. She believes that mission work can be as simple as being gracious to the person that’s behind you in line at the grocery store.
“There are so many opportunities to practice your mission. You never know from one moment how you touch somebody’s life,” Gaye states.
As a Third Order Franciscan, Mrs. Hieb is part of a tradition that goes back to the order for priests and nuns started by St. Francis of Assisi in 1221. Because there were so many married people that wanted to follow the Franciscan way, he established this order for lay people.
Pope Pius XII stated, “The Third Order of St. Francis was born to satisfy this thirst for heroism among those who though having to remain in the world did not wish to be of the world. The Third Order, then, seeks souls who long for perfection in their own state.”
That is a good description of Gaye, as well as of the other people−the heroes−highlighted in these series of articles.
Although not a priest, of course, Gaye is an ordained chaplain and serves in that position for the Auxiliary at SSG Michael Wayne Schafer Memorial VFW Post 10209 in Spring Hill. She also served as district chaplain.
In her work with veterans at care facilities, Gaye has found family members for veterans and has even helped relocate these men and women so that they can be close to their families.
Gaye works primarily at Noble Senior Living in Brooksville where she has instituted a program called “Coffee With the Chaplain.” It’s an opportunity for everyone to sit around and share their stories. At the end of the month she does a pizza afternoon there. The veterans also make different handcrafted items like prayer boxes and memory boxes to share with their loved ones.
Mrs. Hieb considers her mission of helping people transition from this life to the next an honor and doesn’t find it depressing, at all. “Accompanying anyone as they transition to the next chapter of their life is a humbling experience. I am more blessed than I am the blessing.”
For information on the SSG Michael Wayne Schafer Memorial VFW Post 10209 go to https://vfw10209.org/di/vfw/v2/default.asp or their Facebook page.
If you would like to connect with Gaye Hieb go to her Facebook page. It’s filled with all kinds of inspirational quotes and pictures.