It’s been a busy season of life since I shared here last. The Philosopher and The Professor are still trying to heal from their respective physical issues – sometimes it feels like little progress has been made – though I know that isn’t exactly true. They are making progress, and I’m so proud of how they keep trying to move forward through all the frustration they’re feeling.
My days have been spent trying to balance everything that needs to be done. I began taking a computer coding bootcamp last June which has taken up all my spare time… and then some. Somehow, amid all the chaos and craziness of life right now, I’ve managed to continue to find time for my hospice work — this work that I love so much. The hospice I work with has a newsletter for their volunteers and they recently asked to profile me for it, so I thought it would be fitting to post the answers to some of the questions they asked me here – just to share a bit more about myself here, and how much this work is a part of me now.
- 1. What motivated you to get involved with volunteering with Signature Hospice? How long have you been doing this?
I actually came into the volunteer companion role after beginning in the No One Dies Alone program (NODA) with Signature. A few years ago I was struggling with some serious health issues that required me to have weekly saline infusions to increase my blood volume in order to help stabilize my blood pressure. Because these infusions had to be done slowly, I spent 4 to 6 hours alone in the hospital – with a sweet nurse who could only check on me a few times. I remember lying there, feeling so weak – and I distinctly remember thinking that if my heart just gave out no one would know – I could die there all alone. I promised myself that if I ever became strong enough I would do something to ease the loneliness of others and find a way to keep others from being alone in their weakness.
When the time came that my health improved and became more manageable, I happened to see a Facebook post about a training for the No One Dies Alone program that Jim Pfeifer was doing in Estacada, where I was living at the time. Needless to say, I made sure to be there, and at the end of the meeting Jim pointed out that Signature has a Volunteer Companion program as well. I thought that might be a good fit for me too and not long after that, I was able to meet with Michele. I started the hospice volunteer training in September of 2015, and now I volunteer with both programs.
- Tell me about your experiences as a Signature Hospice volunteer. (We cannot share information about specific patients, we can write about our experience.)
I have had some beautiful experiences as a Signature Hospice volunteer. One patient I was able to visit every week for a full year and even at our last visit she still managed to sing along with me for a little while. She loved the old hymns – when she was young she used to play the guitar at her church – and she knew all the old harmonies, so she would sing the harmonies along with me. One time her daughter came by to visit while I was there and she was able to hear her mama singing along with me – it was such a precious time. This patient was in her nineties and had a little dementia, but you wouldn’t have known it during our time together — music has a magic that can erase time and take you to that “truth point” where time is secondary — it takes you to a place of “soul meeting” beyond the confines of the reality we know so well. Sometimes, when I’m singing for other patients now, I still hear her soft, wavering voice singing the harmonies along with me.
- During training volunteers are invited to deepen into the companionship role, deepen into their own heart, and deepen into being present. Can you reflect on this and how you are experiencing volunteering with hospice. How has volunteering affected you?
Wow. This is a beautiful question. I think I have a bit of an advantage when it comes to being present and that “heart-deepening” we talk about, because I not only have the aid of my guitar and its voice and rhythm, but I have a history of health struggles that left me with an understanding of something wordless within that I can recognize in others. When we are truly present with someone we truly see them… there is a timeless quality – without expectation, without goals… You’re allowed to just be – it is a privilege to just be with someone in their humanity… There is a sacredness in our time together – in any interaction – but especially in those relationships that are spent on the edges of life. I love this work. I love how it has deepened my own personal soul-work, I love how it keeps me grounded… When life is crazy or chaotic, this work brings me back to what is real and reminds me of what is true.
- How do you take care of yourself so that you can continue this work of serving the dying?
I do find it a challenge to balance all the different facets of my life. Since mornings tend to be hard for me physically, I’ve learned to use that time in quiet prayer and meditation — sometimes what I need is just more rest. I’ve also learned to use the hours I may lay awake at night in the same way — which at least provides me some peace and quiet while the rest of the house is sleeping. I am a student of Healing Touch as well, so I use the “self-energy-center-connection” techniques to balance my system as well.
When I find free time I write music and songs which help me connect with my inner-life – though that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. I try to find time for reading that deepens my soul-life on a daily basis as well – which often depends on how my mornings progress. I find that serving the dying requires me to remain in touch with my inner world. Aside from that, having regular contact with others who are doing this work as well really encourages me — the volunteer meetings that Michele plans are always a breath of fresh air.
- What advice do you have for our current or prospective volunteers?
I would strongly suggest that prospective volunteers have some kind of plan in place for how they will maintain their own inner balance as they join in this work. What is sacred is often hard to meet face to face and it will force you to face what is deep and Real… and like the story of the Velveteen Rabbit says, we find that what is real is a “thing that happens to you… most of your hair is loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” This Real that the story speaks of happens to those who have been loved — REALLY loved — for a long time… Sometimes it hurts… sometimes it leaves scars… but this is what is Real and it’s just as magic as the Velveteen Rabbit describes it… There is a wisdom that shines in those of us who become Real, and it is a great privilege to spend time with them — it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Don’t go into this work thinking you have to do it like I do though – or like anyone else does for that matter. You are unique – just as unique as each of these Real souls that we get to work with – and your connections, your interactions, your own way of being with each other will be unique. Open yourself up to the love within you and let it make you Real too, as you share it with those who need you.
What else would you like people to know about you?
- Hobbies, other volunteer work,
I seem to always have my hands busy with something. Aside from music, reading and writing, I enjoy knitting when I have the time (I like to make prayer shawls and teddy bears – I made a butterfly shawl once for a patient who was absolutely in love with butterflies – her room was full of them!), and I make rosaries as well to give away to hospitals and hospices if they want them. I’ve been involved with St. Vincent de Paul giving out food boxes, but sadly I haven’t been able to do that for months now simply because there hasn’t been the time. I also interact online in a few support groups encouraging others who struggle with health issues like mine (dysautonomia of all kinds, stroke survivors, connective tissue disorders, etc.).
- family, pets, travel,– goals, plans, etc
My hubby and I have been married over 21 years and we have two sons who are 19 and 16. Both our boys are autistic which has been a journey I didn’t plan for, but it has been quite an adventure. Being their mother has taught me more about being Real than anyone will ever know – they are my greatest accomplishments and source of pride. Our youngest just graduated this past summer and both of the boys have plans to continue their computer programming studies. We have two cats, Emma and Dante, who have suddenly become snuggle bunnies in their old age (probably trying to get into cat heaven now) :), and a sweet-hearted mutt-dog who helps out our youngest letting us know when/if he falls. (He has tethered cord syndrome which wasn’t discovered until last year so we’re dealing with the long term ramifications of that and we’re thankful that the release surgery was successful so that the damage didn’t continue to get worse.) My sister lives just a few houses away so I get to spend a lot of time with her family – loving on her little boys who are 3 yrs old and 8 months old – I love having my arms and heart so full!
- Education, education goals
I’ve spent my years home-educating our boys and providing the therapies they needed, so my education has been earned in the heart of this crazy family life I’m living. Last October I was blessed to be able to attend an End-of-Life Doula training from the International End-of-Life Doula Association which was even better than I expected it to be. We learned about how to help the dying and their families at three different stages – the time before the vigil where “legacy work” can be done and the vigil can be planned (obviously this length of time is variable depending on when the End-of-Life Doula is invited into the process), the vigil itself, and then the bereavement period. I hope to be able to fulfill their requirements for certification at some point, but it’s a bit complicated with HIPPA laws and such. I’m also a student of the Healing Touch Program (a form of “energy work” often learned by nurses) – recently I finished the Level 2 training and I’ll be taking the 3rd Level next March. At the moment I’m nearing the end of a computer coding bootcamp program at The Tech Academy, and the current plan is to try to find flexible work with these new skills that will be able to have a positive impact on the lives of others.
I feel so honored to have been chosen to be profiled in our newsletter — all the volunteers I work with are amazing people, and learning more about them is really my favorite part of reading it. I’m looking forward to seeing them all again when we get together for our meeting this month.
May all of you whose hearts are spent on loving others, particularly the weakest among us — may you all feel the peace of love well spent. May you all be blessed to know someone who has been made Real.
It’s all Grace…