While doing my volunteer work at the hospice residence, I recently spent the better part of my shift visiting with a very discontented patient, whose health seemed to be getting worse day by day. This particular evening was a very lonely one for him – no visitors – and when he asked me to stay and talk, I naturally complied.

Our conversation started about his family and as he talked, he began to act worried and distressed. I encouraged him to talk it out and very rapidly the conversation progressed into an intimate sort of emotional confession regarding his grown son. He had disowned this son over thirty-five years ago, and explained to me the circumstances leading up to their conflict. He knew he was going to die soon, and he wanted to see his son one last time, tell him how sorry he was and how much he loved him. He told me, several times, that it was his dying wish to do this.

At first, I felt a reluctance to get involved in the “Family Dance”, but I was very emotionally moved by his suffering. I have had many confidential conversations with patients in the past and I’ve never discussed the contents of these conversations with anyone. This time, I felt a compelling need to tell someone; someone who perhaps, could help. I knew I could not fix this problem, but I felt an overwhelming need to.

I decided to inform the nurse on duty and I told her the entire story. She was extremely sympathetic and said I had done the right thing by telling her. She said she and the staff would work on a possible plan of action.

I don’t know the end result of this story, as the patient died about five days later. Did he get closure? Was I any help to him? I do not know the answers to these questions. I do know that I felt honoured to have shared this emotional evening with a person who was reaching out. I hope that I conveyed to him my sympathies and caring.

Thinking back on that evening, I realized that I never mentally affixed any blame on either the father or son. I am often guilty of mentally making judgments, but this time I did not. Hopefully, this trend of thinking will continue. It also made me take a long look at my own life and the decisions and judgments I have made in the past and how they possibly did or could affect the future.

So, if I did help this patient, he also helped me, and isn’t that what it’s all about – helping one another?

Terry Anderson

Hospice Residence Volunteer