Retired hospice worker now a hospice volunteer

Nicolle Aukland and daughter Journey

For Nicolle Aukland, caring for hospice patients is a lifelong passion.

“There has always been instilled in myself and my siblings this real effort to always focus on those elders in your family. So from a very early age, we were brought to the nursing home to see great grandparents,” said Aukland. “It was sometimes daily. And so that was my comfort zone.”

A life in hospice care

Aukland began her professional career as a medical social worker at MeritCare before the hospital merged with Sanford Health. She then transitioned into a similar role with Hospice of the Red River Valley. She would eventually leave the health care industry, but her passion for hospice never left her.

“I was always so grateful and thankful for the time and energy [of] the hospice volunteers I came across, what they did for patients. And I thought, I want to do that,” Aukland said. “There are a lot of volunteer opportunities out there, but this was the one that spoke to me the most. It's always been in my heart.

Now in retirement, Aukland dedicates her free time to hospice patients as a companionship volunteer at two different organizations, including Sanford Hospice House in Fargo.

“When she comes in the room, her presence is just welcoming, safe, loving,” said Lora Albrecht, Sanford Fargo’s hospice volunteer coordinator. “It's almost like a natural instinct. Not everyone is comfortable with death, or has had experience with death, or even knows how to talk about it. It's a natural gift that she has.”

Bedside manner

Aukland’s most important role as a companionship volunteer is simply spending time with hospice patients. She might read to them or play a game. She might sit and talk with them. If they’re feeling well enough, she might even take them for a stroll in their wheelchair down to the gift shop. Whatever makes the patient comfortable is what gives Aukland fulfillment.

“If I can find that there's an interest in farm machinery or gardening, I can bring my laptop, we can pull up pictures, just get them talking,” Aukland said. “Seeing something visually that sparks conversation and then stories. It's just kind of a wonderful thing to let them tell their story and just get it started. Those are the kinds of things that I really enjoy and are fun to build on visit to visit.”

A patient’s final days are also incredibly important to Aukland. She helps to make each person’s death a good experience.

“If it can be peaceful, if it can be celebrated, if it can be what that person wants, that's really the goal,” Aukland said.

“She understands the respect of life, the respect of people's dignity,” said Albrecht. “It just speaks to the volunteer's heart, and of wanting the best for our patients.”

Volunteering at Sanford

There are a range of volunteer opportunities within Sanford hospice. If you or someone you know might be interested, you can apply to be a volunteer online, or by emailing hospice volunteer coordinator Lora Albrecht at

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