Volunteering in a Hospice Program.

August 29, 2016

The 100-year-old man. Working with death and dying in hospice.

I worked as a volunteer for a wonderful hospice program for about eight years . Making certain that no one dies alone was one of the things we did because at the end of life, sadly, there are people who have no family or friends to be there with them in those last hours. This is a brief story about one of those events where I was called to help with such a case.

I arrived in darkness at the hospice facility in 2012 and took over from the volunteer who had been on duty for the previous four hours.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy patient, a man who had recently celebrated his 100th birthday, way lying in bed on his back, sleeping peacefully. In the corner of the room, an oxygen generator rumbled with life sustaining efficiency. Other than that sound though, the facility was shrouded in deep silence.

I pulled a chair up to the side of the bed, sat down and gently grasped the man’s hand closest to me. There was no response on his part, nor did I really expect any from what the previous volunteer had said. But to me, that physical contact, along with a brief, murmured self-introduction, is a must, whether actually perceived by the patient or not.

A 100-year lifespan, I said to myself, shaking my head as I stared at the inert form to my right. It had suddenly occurred to me that my elderly patient had been born the year the Titanic sank, two years before the start of World War I. What kind of life had he lived, I wondered. Had he been a good man or had he been something quite different? And most of all why was he dying without friends or family being present? Had he outlived them all, or had he perhaps driven them all away?

In the end though, I brought my musings to a quick halt, deciding that my questions simply didn’t matter. Somewhere deep within the failing body by my side I realized, lay the original essence of this man, call it soul, spirit, atman or whatever. No matter what type of life he had led, that essence had learned its lessons as much as possible within the years available, and soon it would be time to move on.

And in that understanding, I closed my eyes, reached out with my own inner being, and wished the 100-year-old man well as he neared the next stage of his never-ending journey.

That’s the end of my little story, but if you are interested in becoming a hospice volunteer, besides contacting one of your local hospice organizations, here are some active links that might give you some food for thought:

National Hospice Foundation

Hospice Foundation of America

Hospice Volunteer Association

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