On a beautiful, calm Wednesday afternoon, I was welcomed into Dorscie Paterson’s home with open arms and a smile as bright as the sun. She is an esteemed volunteer for the Langley Hospice Society.
With the warmth of Mother Nature around us, I asked Dorscie to explain her journey to hospice volunteering. She talked of seeing Elizabeth Kubler-Ross speak at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver, as the topic of life and death “fascinated” her. Although this opportunity ignited her interest, it wasn’t until the death of her mother, however, that Dorscie really comprehended the weight of losing a loved one. “I remember a nurse gave me a bundle of my mother’s clothes as I walked out the hospital… I saw a
man walking a dog, a woman driving a car… and all I could think was – don’t they know my mom just died? But of course they didn’t. I needed to talk about it but life was going on for everyone else”.
The need to talk, to share her experience, to cry and be comforted; these were imperative to Dorscie. As a result of these desires, along with time, great effort, and the assistance of other like-minded individuals, Langley Hospice Society was created as a community resource for those seeking support for grief and bereavement. “We literally started in a kitchen”, Dorscie recalls. “We were surrounded with ingredients, but didn’t know if our recipes would be successful – meaning we knew the work we wanted to do was significant, but would people really use us?” As time has shown, the work was not only important, but indispensable. As Langley Hospice Society now celebrates 30 years of community service, I was curious to know what sustains Dorscie’s passion in this work. “It’s the most fascinating work!” she exclaimed.
“To share a journey with these people… anytime you can help, in any way, to ease their journey, that is what you must do. In any way you can. When I am asked ‘how can you do that?’, I wonder why ‘that’ is said with fear. To me, ‘that’ is a gift. I don’t choose to carry this work as a burden. To me, it’s an experience in my life and someone else’s life”.
With a sparkle in her eye and smile from ear to ear, Dorscie shared a few of the many personal volunteer experiences that demonstrated her affection for hospice work. She recounts a time when a physician asked her to speak to “an angry patient”. Dorscie states “all I knew of the patient was that he was a fisherman, and frankly, that’s all I needed to know. I began my conversation with him, with me still standing at the door. I asked him about fishing; a topic that obviously comforted him. As the conversation progressed, I forgot he was described as “angry”. The next thing I know, I am holding his hand, at the side of his bed. With his hard eyes now soft, he asked “will you come back again?” and I told him “you can rest assured, I will be here”.
Dorscie shared other experiences of patients, many of whom were described as “angry” or “difficult”, but as she points out, “who wouldn’t be? You’re in a hospital – dying. But are these reflections of patients’ true self? Of course not!” As Dorscie demonstrated, by taking the time to humanize and listen, we, as volunteers, “can provide that breath of fresh air” that patients may be struggling for. She continues, “we (volunteers) must be aware and connect with the flow of the room. Yes, we are there for the patient, but is there a family involved as well? They’re just as important. We must be aware of space, movement, the variation of movement, and acknowledge that the flow is constantly changing”.
In addition to attentive listening, having a genuine interest in hospice work, enthusiasm, Dorscie explains, is just as essential. “You need a certain amount of enthusiasm to not only do the work, but to enjoy it as well”. By acknowledging the power of your presence, ensure that “you look and feel like you want to be there, not that you have to. Remember, this invitation to be a part of [a patient’s] life during this time, is a gift”. She continues to explain that “the best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving, with passion and compassion; humour, style, generosity and kindness from a grateful heart”. Without a
doubt, this certainly sounds like a recipe for success.
Shivani Kaushik, MSW, RSW
Adult Bereavement Coordinator