My first encounter with hospice was on the receiving end and I remember asking the hospice nurse that first day, “How can you do this every day?” I will never forget her answer, “Hospice is not about dying, it’s about affirming life, helping people live their last days to the fullest.” During the next several months, I began to understand how true her words were. Today, as a volunteer, those words echo in my mind each time I’m about to meet a new patient.
I was so excited to get my first assignment; I had taken all the volunteer classes, listened to countless stories from other volunteers. I was trained and eager …until I received my assignment. Anna was a 92 years old lady with colon cancer given only a few days to live. Anna was bedridden and mute. Mute…none of the stories I had heard ever mentioned their patients being mute. A thousand questions came to mind along with a mild panic attack. How would I ever know what she needed? Would I know the right words? How would I give her support and companionship if she couldn’t tell me what she needed? Would I be enough? I was a nervous wreck!
Getting ready to walk into Anna’s hospice room, my anxiety level was escalating. Saying a quick prayer, I asked God to help me find the right words to comfort Anna and her family. Upon knocking on her door, a young lady in her middle 20’s answered the door. Opening the door for me, she informed me Anna was her grandmother and she would like me just to sit with her and that she would return after work. And she left. No get to know you introduction here, very formal, matter of fact, serious kind of girl. No one was going to invade her space. Oh well, I thought, I’m here to help Anna, hopefully Julie will open up later.
Turning my attention, I immediately noticed how rigid she was laying in bed. It looked as though her upper half was in a state of permanent contracture, so that she was partially sitting up. Her hair looked as if she hadn’t had it combed for days. She was literally skin and bones; her translucent skin showed how fragile she was. The ashen skin on her face and neck was tightly drawn, every ligament in her neck banjo taut. As I draw closer, our eyes meet. Profound emotions radiating from her eyes were penetrating my soul: frightened, anxious, questioning, apprehensive, and extreme exhaustion were all screaming out in complete silence. I knew at once that she could speak volumes with her eyes. Instant compassion and empathy rose up on the inside of me as I held her hand and told her who I was. That terrified look diminished somewhat when she knew I was from hospice.
At a loss for words, I inspected her room for personal effects, trying to get a feeling for her situation. There was very little in the room to define who she was, a tattered pair of worn out slippers she no longer...