By the time he passed away, death was familiar to Joe Doak.
Doak was a devout Catholic, and a veteran, who died July 29 at 96 years old. But before his own death, Doak had spent days and nights sitting beside dying men and women in a hospice, offering them a word of comfort and the encouragement of prayer.
In 2011 Doak became a vigil volunteer for Hope-West hospice in Grand Junction, Colorado. There, he would comfort the dying with prayers, hymns, discussions, or just the consolation of his silent presence.
A devout Catholic, Joe told the Daily Sentinel in May that he wanted to be a source of hope, letting those patients know that someone would be with them during their last hours.
"The main thing is to tell them that they're not alone. They're not dying alone,” he said. "I just hope that I've comforted and consoled them and given them hope," he added.
Doak was an electrical engineer and raised six children with his wife Phyllis, getting married about 10 years after World War II, when he served as a communications officer in the United States Navy.
His family eventually moved to Gunnison, Colorado, where Doak owned an electronic store specializing in computers. He then moved to Montrose, where the Catholic engineer spent a large portion of his retirement time volunteering.
He volunteered in a variety of community activities – he taught seniors computer skills, he aided immigrants in their English, and he helped children with their reading skills. He was also a driver for Meals on Wheels.
"That is the makeup of my dad. He wants to help people, wants to comfort people that may be alone. He is a very religious person, so I think this played into him being a devoted Catholic," his son, Roger Doak, told Colorado Public Radio.
Doak was inspired to hospice ministry after caring for his wife Phyllis during a seven-year struggle with Alzheimer’s. After she died in 2011, he saw an ad for the vigil volunteers and decided to use his experience with Phyllis for other people.
Each time Doak received a call about a person dying, he would go to introduce himself, usually to a complete stranger. Doak would sit with patients, offering his hand, making conversation, and singing Christian hymns. A favorite of his was “Open my Ears” by Jesse Manibusan, the Daily Sentinel reported.
Roger Doak told Colorado Public Radio that his father had most likely died alone, but expressed hope that the people he comforted were there to receive him in the end.
"I'd like to think that all those people that my dad had comforted when they died, were actually there with him when he died."