Denise Duesing

World War II Survivor Now Volunteers in End of Life Care

Dec 8 2021

The following was contributed by Mike DellaRipa, a Bon Secours spiritual care volunteer, following an interview with fellow volunteer, Denise Duesing.

Denise Duesing has overcome much adversity in her lifetime.

She was born in Jarny, France in 1934. At the age of 6, her family was forced to flee their home at the start of World War II after Germany invaded her town. They only had 30 minutes notice before they left.

For the next four years, Denise and her family traveled hundreds of miles, faced separation, danger and survived the harshest of winters where warmth and food were scarce resources. They would get by day to day on the family’s unwavering faith and courage.

Denise recalls a specific event during 1943. One afternoon three Jewish teenagers were running through their street when one of them collapsed suddenly. No one dared to help her for fear of being shot. But when evening came, Denise’s parents bravely rescued the girl, brought her secretly into their home and hid her safely for three days so she could recover. This was one lesson of compassion Denise learned growing up that later led her to a life of serving others.

Now, at 87 years old, Denise is a spiritual care volunteer at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center.

“I still remember World War II and the extreme hardships,” Denise shares. “However, I think more often though of a kind German officer, my guardian angel, who rescued my mother, two brothers and me from separation with my father – and a probable death in Germany. Due to his kindness, I survived and was able to forgive the German soldiers. I then made a personal commitment to dedicate my life to serving others.”

Denise always felt fortunate to have survived the war and remains thankful to the American soldiers who liberated France. She even fell in love with an American soldier, whom she married and raised seven children with for 50 years until he passed away.

However, her one regret in life is that she was not able to see her mother in France when her mother was dying, because Denise was pregnant and unable to safely travel. After learning that she had died alone, Denise felt a calling to join the Bon Secours Sacred Passages ministry, which believes “no patient should die alone.” Denise has taken on a sacred duty in this role: to sit with patients in their final hours who would otherwise be by themselves.

“I have enjoyed being able to serve others by being present with hospice patients as they experience their final hours of life. It is during these times I believe I see patients experience the presence of God and see them at a peace unlike any other,” Denise shares.

Denise continues to lead her life to experience the sheer joy of doing good for others. She also believes that “you poison yourself when you do not forgive and when you are able to survive a hard time, you become a better person.”

“Just as before in 1939, in 2021, while life is different, life is good” Denise adds.

The Sacred Passages program began at Bon Secours Richmond in 2015. Volunteers aren’t required to be Christian, but they are required to be spiritually grounded and must be a member of a local faith community. These volunteers undergo training which teaches them about the physical and emotional process of dying. They also learn how to create a sacred space. After a death, they go through a debriefing with a chaplain to talk about how the vigil proceeded and how they felt.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer companion with the Sacred Passages program in Bon Secours Richmond, contact Teresa Crist at

Also, learn about the volunteer opportunities in all of our Bon Secours markets.

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