For the media

Veteran finds calling through hospice care

By The Health News Team | November 10, 2023
Gil Harrison of San Diego at the Sharp HealthCare LakeView Hospice Home.

Sharp HospiceCare volunteer and homemaker Gil Harrison at the LakeView Hospice Home.

San Diego veteran Gil Harrison has a new mission — one that centers around compassion, comfort and care.

As a longtime Sharp volunteer and now part-time homemaker, or aide, with Sharp HospiceCare, Gil has dedicated 11 years and nearly 10,000 hours to helping patients and families, many navigating the end of life. For Gil, volunteering is more than a way to stay busy, it’s a tribute to the compassionate care both his mother and brother received in their final days.

“I remember all of the wonderful caregivers we had at Sharp — all of the doctors and the various people that touched our lives,” Gil says. “That’s what made me want to volunteer.”

From combat to caretaker

After graduating from San Diego State University in 1970 with a degree in economics, Gil entered the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant. He trained and served on active duty with a nuclear missile combat crew stationed in the Midwest before his tenure was unexpectedly cut short.

Gil Harrison of San Diego in his military uniform

Gil Harrison in his missileman crew uniform.

“I was roughly four months away from making captain when my mom said, ‘I need you back home,’” Gil says.

His mother, Marta, had been diagnosed with cancer. She was also the primary caregiver for his brother, Delbert, who experienced seizures after suffering a brain injury as a child.

“I started learning all I could,” Gil says of when he returned to San Diego to care for both his brother and mother, who eventually developed dementia. “That’s when I began to understand the importance of health and how to care for people.”

In less than two years apart, both Delbert and Marta passed away at home in hospice.

Honoring others who served

Gil has served in many roles since he first began volunteering, but now helps recognize and care for other veterans as part of Sharp HospiceCare’s veteran support team.

“I remember meeting my very first patient,” Gil says. “He was a World War II Navy combat vet. We shared great stories. And because he worked in San Diego most of his life, he told me all about the city’s history.”

Gil spends time with patients and helps provide respite to families who need support. He and other volunteers also perform pinning ceremonies to acknowledge veterans’ service through Sharp HospiceCare’s partnership with We Honor Veterans. The national nonprofit offers guidance and resources to those who have served in the armed forces.

“When I tell others about caring for veterans in hospice, many say ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ Well, you do it because you’re going to help somebody,” Gil says. “What better time to help somebody than in one of the most difficult times of their lives.”

Earlier this year, Gil began working as a part-time homemaker in Sharp hospice homes. Four days a week, he helps clean, orders supplies and cooks meals.

“They always love my omelets,” he jokes.

Outside of Sharp, he is also a volunteer with the USS Midway Museum, where he was recently recognized as volunteer of the month. He works with the curatorial team there to research information and stories to share with families about their loved ones in hospice.

If he had to start over, Gil proudly says he would choose a career in health care. “I'm lucky to have found my calling, and it's been through Sharp,” he says.

Learn more about volunteer opportunities with Sharp HospiceCare; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

You might also like:

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.