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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Learning to Live

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Precious! That's the only word I can think of in describing my first hospice patient. I don't know what led a person like me into volunteering for hospice. I have always had a fear about death and never liked to talk about it. Yet at the same time, I must have always had a fascination as well. There's no other reason why in high school I would choose to write about "Death and Dying" for my thesis. High school! What's wrong with me? Maybe it all started with my wonderful giving mother, who has worked in a nursing home for over 35 years and is still very giving of her time, talents, and herself to the residents. Or maybe it's because I loved my grandmother so much and enjoyed listening to her stories until she passed away at the very young age of 105! Something must have piqued my interest.

When my husband and I first moved to Virginia, we became foster parents to newborns; picking them up from the hospital and loving them immensely until they went home with their forever families. So how did I go from welcoming newborns into this world to now being there for others as they depart? 

After fostering, I found myself volunteering through our church to take communion to the homebound and visit the sick in the hospital. Thinking I was going to show up at the hospital and tell a patient I'll be praying for them as they undergo an "appendectomy" or some surgery that would leave them healthier and home within a week was a little naive on my part. Three of the four patients I visited were in the hospice unit, two of which probably didn't even know I was there; and since those visits, have all passed on. Made me realize I had a lot of growing to do... and I couldn't wait to get started.

After my training session ended to become a hospice volunteer, I couldn't wait for my first patient. I saw him today. An elderly man with Alzheimers. I was given some information on his background, his likes, bits about his life, etc. which I typed up to take with me so I could refer to the notes just in case I didn't know what to say. Then I accidentally left the notes at home. I was left just saying some prayers on the way there for guidance, wisdom, and courage.

We had the most wonderful visit and I loved hearing his stories over and over again because each time he told them, they were new and different. (I'm so glad I forgot to bring my notes.) Throughout the course of our visit I learned that I loved being "in the moment" with this Alzheimer's patient. The journey was wonderful and after I reassured him several times that he was not going to miss his "flight" he told me he better use the "facilities" before boarding. The nurse took him to the restroom and I sat, staring at a room full of Alzheimer's patients who were staring right back at me. I wanted so badly to walk around to each one and be with them on their journey... even for a short time. I'm sure that most of them had stories of their own, while others who could no longer speak sat quietly waiting for a new life. 

My patient came back from the restroom, all ready for his flight to Florida, as the nurse helped him into a soft high-back chair. He isn't going to be going anywhere, but he's probably been all over the world in his mind.

Although it's a little discomforting not knowing what's in store for this "new" hospice volunteer, I look forward to learning how to live a better life through these precious patients who are nearing the end of theirs.


"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." 
- Neale Donald Walsch