The Surprising Joys of Hospice Work
Posted on January 18, 2017 by Lisa Alcock
There are endless opportunities to donate time and money to good causes. The mission statements are compelling and the reasons for committing to those charitable efforts are readily evident. Yet, when I was looking for a new chance last year to make a difference, Care Dimensions became my obvious choice.
My decision was not based on a single experience. Hospice had never supported my family, but I had once written an article for a local newspaper about hospice. Also, I shared a friend’s two-year battle with pancreatic cancer, a journey that eventually involved hospice support.
Inspired by hospice volunteers
Last summer, friends invited me to a Care Dimensions event that introduced plans for a new hospice house on the Waltham-Lincoln line. At that reception, the volunteers were the people who most moved me. They were grateful to be a direct part of Care Dimensions’ services to those at the end of life and their families. When I was asked to join the cause, it seemed only natural to do so.
I signed up to contribute both time and financial support.
The appeal of volunteering is to give without expecting anything in return. From my time as a volunteer, I have gained much in learning to slow my typically frenzied pace. After all, I am bearing witness. To do so, quiet is essential. And in that quiet, when I listen, I always learn. I bring to my visits experiences that build connections with patients and families: raising children, teaching, gardening, and even faith. My patients bring rich stories of lives that confirm for me how precious each day is for all of us.
Learning from the hospice experience
One patient I worked with was a former teacher and gardener. She suffered from glaucoma, so boldly colored flowers filled her room at her long-term care facility. During my first visit, I offered to read to her. She was drifting in and out on morphine, and my reading seemed to give added peace from her pain. The next visit, I turned to the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson. Her breathing shifted, and she seemed a lot more comfortable. I called her daughter one night, looking for more reading suggestions. In a pleasant coincidence, she replied, "Anything by Robert Louis Stevenson." Before we hung up, I said I was moved by how the family had decorated her mother’s room – bursts of color everywhere.
It was the first and last time we spoke. The next morning my patient passed on. What are the odds that with a single phone call, my patient’s daughter and I would have the chance to each realize that our gestures had helped this patient experience the kind of death we would hope for?
My current patient is also a former English teacher. During the first visit, she remarked that she had not been feeling up to reading. Next visit, I brought her a collection to consider. After she made her choices, she mentioned a current bestseller, All the Light We Cannot See. I promised to bring it along the next week. When I got home, however, I realized that I could not wait. She had also shared concern over a sense of depression she could not shake. This emotional cloud was frustrating her. I called and asked to drop by a couple days later. Watching the clerk at Wellesley Books wrap this request so beautifully was second only to watching my patient open her gift.
The next visit, my patient was sitting outside, savoring the sunshine. As we talked, she spoke delightedly about her new reading. As in other conversations, we soon turned to other topics: being mothers, our affection for dogs, and the endless, unpredictable shifts in life’s journey.
Joy over sadness
I have discovered already in my short tenure with Care Dimensions that casual conversations about hospice can often elicit responses like, “Wow, good for you. I’m not sure I could do that,” or “Don’t you find it sad to spend so much time with those who are dying?”
My answers are always the same: You’d be surprised by the joy in this work; frankly, I feel quite lucky as a hospice volunteer to be on this journey with my patients. Now having seen what Care Dimensions staff and volunteers provide to patients and their families, I know that my donations of time and money are dedicated to the best of causes.
There is great reassurance knowing firsthand that with the caring involvement of others, end of life can be filled with comfort and even joy. The gestures of offering support at that time are small, but the impact on both the volunteer and the patient is immeasurable.
Learn what it takes to become a hospice volunteer with Care Dimensions.
While our website will give you a better understanding about hospice care and the services that Care Dimensions provides, no one can tell the true story quite like our patients, families and staff. We encourage you to take a moment and read their stories and watch our videos.
You’ll be forever changed as you learn about life’s difficult final journey and the amazing patients, caregivers and staff who’ve embarked on the experience together.