In early July I finished my volunteer course in Hospice and palliative care. Finished is probably not the right word. I finished the 9 week curriculum, but working in this area is a life-long pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge of yourself first, what you believe, what you fear, and how much you receive when you give.
The introduction to my first client was very different from what I had imagined. My reasons for joining Hospice are selfish. I want to give back in my dad’s name. When the volunteer co-ordinator asked me how I envisioned my first experience I said, “I wanted to sit vigil for an elderly gentleman.” Thursday she called to say she had an assignment for me, it was not even close to what I had imagined.
I will not compromise anyone’s privacy or anonymity here. I will only tell you how it feels for me and why this is right. I drove into the driveway of the tidy, lake house. The wild flower gardens among the rocks were strewn with the same plants that have naturalized in my own gardens. A large orange dog met me as I dropped from my truck. I sat down on the tar and let him circle me as I introduced myself. He wasn’t menacing but I instantly felt his sadness and protectiveness of his home. I rubbed his ears and told him I would be kind to his people. He led me down the stone path to the front door. There was a door bell and a knocker. I listened to the birds around me and the silence within the house, then softly knocked.
A lock turned and the door opened instantly. It’s an awkward balance to introduce yourself. I am, by nature, a fixer. What I have had to learn in hospice is to just listen, and know that is all the fixing that is required. The husband and I walked through the house and out on the deck overlooking the lake. I squatted to pat the dog while the man brushed the dog’s shaggy fur. We talked about life in small-town New Hampshire. We both are transplants here. I knew his daughter’s rode horses so that was a safe topic to pursue.
The hospice co-ordinator drove in shortly. After introductions, we waited while the man went to wake his wife and prep her for our visit. She sat propped in a hospital bed, placed within reach of their previously shared bed. He sat on their bed and held her hand; we sat in folding chairs. She was in obvious pain, thin and drawn. Her first question for us was if she could get us a cup of tea. The co-ordinator expertly drove the conversation with questions about what they would want me to do in the case of an emergency; who to call first and what the action plan would be. Basics covered, she excused herself and left us to figure out our next step. The man and I moved to the living room so his wife could sleep.
We never know why we are put in people’s lives; what paths open to us when we step out of our comfort zone and trust the leap will be rewarded with a net.
I fought back tears a few times. I never felt I shouldn’t be there. As I left, the old dog walked me back to my truck. I reached down, scratched his head and looked into his eyes. I couldn’t say, “It’s going to be alright,” so I softly told him, “I’ll come back.”