I’ve been working as a hospice volunteer now since December, 2007. It was a choice that surprised many of my family and friends – my youngest son even said, “Mum, you won’t be able to do that – you’re too emotional”! But, that’s what I’m doing, and I love it.
It all started with my own grieving process ten years ago. My Dad, a vital, intelligent man, was struck down by a stroke during heart surgery. For three months he lingered in hospitals, while the family watched his body and mind slowly shut down. We felt helpless – unable to understand what was happening, unable to assist our father in his final leave-taking. The nursing staff was always changing. No one gave us the information we needed and we were unaware that hospice support existed. Nothing would have made my father’s death easier to accept, but knowledge and support could have made his passage less fearful for him and less agonizing for us.
After that experience, and ever since I learned hospice care services existed, I had it in the back of my mind to take training. So, in the fall of 2007, I enrolled in the Langley Hospice Society training and met a wonderful caring group of women. The two months of lessons and exercises were extremely intense, touching as they did on our own personal grief and spiritual beliefs. But, there was lots of laughter as well, which often brought a kind of cathartic release from the painful memories in each of us. We needed to understand ourselves first, before we would be capable of assisting others.
At the beginning of my volunteer service, I was fearful. My professional skills as an employment counselor meant that I often gave advice or solved problems for my clients. In hospice, however, the problems were ones I could not solve. Would I be able to just sit quietly and listen as I should? Could I stop myself from getting tangled up in family dynamics? These would be my major tests.
Over the past year, I’ve learned a great deal; most of it from the patients themselves. Where I felt I was ineffectual and useless, I was told I was caring and thoughtful. How did that happen? My fumbling insensitivities were forgiven because I just took an interest in someone. How could I not? These patients were all amazing people. I saw such courage and acceptance. I witnessed gratitude and serenity in the face of death. Even with those who fought back, I found a love of life that came from a deep core of inner strength.
There are days when I leave my shift at the hospice feeling deeply saddened, or thinking of things I should, or should not have done and worrying about it. But, more often, there are days when I feel totally uplifted by everything I have seen and heard – the love of family, the dedication of the nursing staff and always the courage of the dying.
Yes, I guess I am an emotional person. But, if I want to assist people and their families in the dying process, then I need to care a great deal and sometimes crying can be part of that caring. But the rewards from this work are inestimable. They warm the heart and nourish the soul.