“What made you volunteer for Hospice?” “Don’t you find it sad being around the dying?” How many of us have had these and many other questions like them posed when people find out that you are a volunteer at Langley Hospice?
My journey as a volunteer has been one of personal discovery, growth and challenge. I remember during my initial training, as I listened to Fernande and the other presenters, I would look for the key to unlock what was expected of me. I thought that once I learnt “how to be a good volunteer” all would be well. I initially felt frustrated at our weekly sessions as I tried to analyze and second-guess the process. But as the training progressed, I found that there is no key, in fact there is no lock, other than the one that I wrap my heart in. I needed to let go and listen; not easy for me. Each week as the training continued I would ask myself “Why am I here?” The answer that came back was: “because you want to be; be patient and listen”. I am a stubborn person, but slowly the challenge to suspend judgment and allow the lessons being presented to seep into my heart took hold. I was proud when I finished and could start the visits at the residence.
I can remember how nervous I was that first time, unsure what I was walking into – what I was expected to do? I am no longer as nervous, mostly I am just excited about being at the Residence. What a privilege it has been for me; it is very different from what I thought it would be. Each time I enter the Residence it is like I enter a different world, a place without pretence. A place where important things happen.
In our everyday lives we are rushing around looking for who knows what. Once you push the keypad and enter the Hospice Residence, the importance we place on stuff in our daily life is gone. Of course there is loss and pain, confusion and for me a sense, at times, of not being able to match up to the needs of the residents. But overriding all of these things is a sense that what is happening is important. As you journey with these people, in their last moments you realize that in a small way you are making a difference. As a volunteer I have been with people who allow me to be a part of something that is very private; being a part of their life and – at this moment – death journey. I remember one of our clients saying to me: “It’s good to talk to someone who is not afraid to talk about my dying; so many of my friends don’t visit me because they don’t know what to say about death.“
When our clients and their families at the residence ask me why am I there, I say “because I want to be” and without exception they are so grateful for the time we as volunteers spend with them. I see the making of coffee, the washing of dishes, the removing of dinner trays, as important as being able to hold hands with our friends as they talk about their family, or listening to family members share their confusion and ache as they struggle with losing a loved one.
Now when I am asked the questions: “What made you volunteer for Hospice?”, “Don’t you find it sad being around the dying?”, I have answers. I still find it difficult to fully answer the question “What made me volunteer?” But I volunteer because it’s important and I can do it. It is not sad to be around people who are dying. The dying teaches me about the preciousness that is my life and how important it is to be awake to cherish the moments that are gone so quickly. As one of our residents said, “I have had a good life and I lived it well so I am ready.” I hope I will be able to say the same when my life comes to its end.
Kiernan Hillan, Langley Hospice Residence Volunteer