When I began volunteering at the Residence about 1½ years ago, I very quickly became aware of how often the question is asked: “Why do you do this type of work?”  Well, the answer is simple, isn’t it? Actually no, it is not that simple; at least I believe it is not easy for most.

Initially I was a little flummoxed for an appropriate and honest answer to the question. Simply to say something along the lines of “I like to help and talk to people” or to respond in some similar fashion seemed a superficial answer that lacked substance and did not give a comprehensive explanation.

I pondered the question, and still do so to some extent, because our lives are an evolving sequences of
experiences, observations and events that over time influence and shape and may change our perspectives, thoughts and opinions. As anyone knows who is involved with hospice work of any type, it is one of the greater privileges in life to become a confidante to someone who is experiencing end-of-life or with an accompanying family member or close friend who is following a grief and bereavement journey. There are few life experiences that compare to the profundity of these encounters, as anyone who is involved in healthcare or the medical professions know only too well.

A reply to that question “Why do you do this type of work?” evolved as “Well, it helps me keep my feet on the ground”, and sometimes I add in a lighter tone of voice “And it helps me not take myself too seriously”. Saying “it helps me keep my feet on the ground” is a response that I can give which holds conviction and while it is not a particularly comprehensive reply, it does however convey a sense of one benefit that I gain from being a volunteer.

At the end of a shift at the hospice Residence, I reflect on the events and interactions that have taken place and can say simply I think that my feet are well and truly firmly planted on the ground; where else do you interact with people who in almost all, if not all instances, have no agenda other than their prevailing and critical circumstances.

Each volunteer who does this work likely has differing focuses and perspectives on the reasons why they do it and the rewards that they derive vary from one person to another. Although the volunteers come from different walks of life, each brings their own skills and presence to the Residence and there is a common commitment that is shared by all. This commitment is challenging to express succinctly in a few words, however, is perhaps illustrated by relating an occasion that is not necessarily especially
unique, but holds a very special place in my memory and likely is the kind of experience to which most hospice residence volunteers can relate.

One afternoon towards the end of a busy 3-hour shift at the Residence (each shift at the Residence is different, unique and profound) during which I had spent some time with an elderly lady who we will call Ann, which is not her real name. Ann sat next to the bed of her husband of many years who had just died. She sat very quietly; her grief at that point seemed to be internal. I asked if I may sit with her for a while. I listened to and shared in Ann’s silence. She was very serene and we did not talk very much, however the silence was louder than any words could be. After such an experience, how could
my feet be anywhere but firmly planted-on-the-ground!

Thornton Smith
Hospice Residence Volunteer