When someone is going through something profound and difficult, sometimes all that’s needed to make it bearable is the presence of another human being. A hand to hold in the dark. The soothing rhythm of someone breathing along with you.
It’s been a year since my initial training as a hospice volunteer. An amazing year.
I’ve had several assignments–clients–since then, too. As powerful as the training was, putting it into action is even more so.
As a “recovering fixer”, I was not surprised that the hardest thing to do as a hospice volunteer is…..
They told us that, they warned us. I thought I got it, too. (Remember how I let go of being full of knowing…?)
It was harder than I thought!
Every time I felt compelled to “do something” or “fix something”, it always became clear that was not my task.
Troubled family relationships? There’s a hospice social worker for that. Pain and disability? There’s a hospice physician and a hospice nurse for that. Light housework, feeding, cleaning? There’s a hospice nursing assistant for that. Questions about the soul, heaven, the afterlife, whether there IS an afterlife? There is always their minister or priest, or the hospice chaplain for that.
“Doing” was very hard to let go of.
As a hospice volunteer, all I had to do was be there.
Because that is what a volunteer does. We just show up. Sometimes, all we do is sit.
If we need to be there but the client doesn’t want us to–say, a spouse or family simply need respite care–we read a book in another room and simply give peace-of-mind to those who just need to get out for a cup of coffee or a haircut.
If the client asks for a volunteer and later they change their mind, then we come for a little while–then leave.
If the client simply wants someone there to hold their hand, that is what we do best.
We can be the most expendable part of the team, or the most important, for a few moments, a few days or few weeks.
But here’s what’s certain–it’s impossible to try to be the best.
It’s very hard to be the best “be-er” in hospice care.
In a world where we are encouraged to always be our best (like the sad little refrain in Joss Whedon’s TV series Dollhouse), it is very hard to let go of that.
Even as I urge myself and others to recognize the creative spirit in ourselves, to nurture the skills, talents and passion within, it was profound to learn another truth:
Sometimes, all you have to be is….human.
Was it boring? Never.
There is something deep and real about serving in this way. I will have to work my way toward recognizing what that is over the next few months…or years.
Was it depressing? Not really. There is something about being allowed into this person’s life, at this time, with all the clarity that brings to your heart, that made it always poignant, and often exhilarating.
And oddly, I think it made me cherish my art all the more, even knowing that it could be taken away from me in a heartbeat. Even knowing (because I’ve seen it) that there will come a day when I would leave it all behind without a thought, without a regret.
So the first gift of hospice is to recognize the power of simply being.
Tomorrow I will share another gift of hospice.