So I volunteer, nothing new there. Still plugging away at Horizon, ONG and the Humane Society. I’m adding a youth running club to the list this summer – pretty excited about it. I really enjoy spending my time with others, for others… if only I could do it all the time. And get paid. Defeats the purpose, I know, but still…
Today touched me as a volunteer in a way I’ve been waiting for. I act as a “greeter” at Horizon, a.k.a. desk sitter, coffee maker, smiling welcomer. I’m not trained to interact directly with patients (too heavy for me yet), but I do get some decent one-on-one time with their loved ones. I am the first face they see, after all.
Today I spent a few moments chatting with a friend of a woman who’s been in hospice for about two months – near an eternity in hospice time. I love coming in week to week and finding the same name(s) on the board. I root for them to continue living, even though I know it can’t be too much longer. I said “hello” as she passed my desk, went through the usual “how are you today” (what else do you say?), and she paused in such a way that suggested she wanted someone to talk to. Dying is enough of a bitch for the person going through it, let alone those who have to sit back and watch, acting strong and supportive, all the while screaming inside for someone to do something to stop it all from happening.
She told me about her relationship with Carol, how they had worked together long ago, lost touch, then reunited and have grown closer since. She explained how often she comes to visit, how strong Carol has been, how she would describe her lunch to Carol today, even though she’s beyond the ability to eat, even as she slips away, knowing she can still hear and understand and feel (she even brought Carol some popcorn to smell, since she had been craving it recently). She told me how she’s been holding out hope that Carol will be all right, knowing all the while that hope is futile (shit, sometimes hope is all we have to hold on to, you know?).
We talked about how important it is to be a presence in their finals days (weeks, months, if you’re lucky), how much they must appreciate the visits and support and love they receive on a regular basis. How there really is no preparation to deal with the loss of someone so loved, even though every day that goes by is heavy with anticipation. How you never necessarily think one person can mean so much to you.
This woman is strong, even as she struggles to let go. She’s there for her friend in her time of greatest need. In this business, there’s nothing more you can ask for.
Then a man came in looking for the belongings left behind in his father’s room last week (I only come in on Mondays, and only saw his name on the board once, so he wasn’t here very long). There was a lamp and two bags of things, so I walked with him down to his car. He asked about our grief counceling services, I didn’t want to pry. In his car was a beautiful 11-year-old husky, his friend through all this, he said. Animals are phenomenal companions when suffering, and I was struck with sadness and hope (ah, hope) that this old dog would last long enough for this man be all right, without suffering the added loss of his faithful friend.
As I walked back into the building, tears snuck out ever so gently. This is heavy, overwhelming, emotionally abrasive stuff. It was a struggle my first few weeks, watching the names on the board change, plastering on a smile for the people who are here for one reason. I know how they feel, I know what they are going through, I know no matter how many nice people pass them by with a smile or a hug, that person in that bed down the hall is still going to die. It’s hard for me, on this side of the desk, that I now get to come and go for a different reason, and they are stuck in limbo until their loved one is released. But they will be okay. We all will. One can only hope.