Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A New Adventure

Yesterday I began what I think will be an interesting experience, possibly even an adventure of sorts. I volunteered for Hospice Austin.

Actually, I began this process earlier this year by meeting with the volunteer coordinator for Hospice Austin. Our interview went well and I was accepted. Alas, I had just missed one of the training session that all volunteers are required to go through, so I had to wait till yesterday to finally get started.

About thirty of us gathered in a small windowless room on the second floor of the Hospice offices in northwest Austin. We were a diverse group. One of the first things we did was to go around the room, introduce ourselves and say why we were there.

Most of the people were women, though there was a good number of men. Most people were older, but there were a few young people as well. Most of people had recently lost someone they loved, and since Hospice had been there for them, they were there to give something back. One young woman admitted that she was not there to pay anything back, but to pay it forward. A young doctor had come to find a way to change the way she dealt with death. A middle aged chef with four children came to help others after his mother died. A middle aged woman who had recently lost her forty-four year old husband came to help others accept what they could not fight.

When it was my turn, I wish I'd been more articulate, but the essence of what I said was this:

'Like others, I came because I want to give back, certainly. I lost my mother about two years ago and honestly, Hospice did very little for her. But it is what they did for me that I remember. That's what I want to pass on. I am also a bit selfish. I am a writer and I want to write about it.'

Naturally, when I got back home and was talking with my family, I thought of other, equally important reasons for doing this. Someone said that it would be too hard for them; they'd been too sad all the time. I can see how that would be a natural reaction for some, perhaps even many. Death and dying is still a very difficult 'place' for people to 'go', so to speak precisely because it is associated with so much sadness and guilt.

What I learned from Lynda's death, however, is that it was the illness, not the death that made me feel so sad and guilty. It was the loss of dignity and the quality of life that I came to regret, not the passing of my Mother. In fact, her passing was the moment of release, the lifting of the burden that illness and pain had placed upon us all at her end. Death itself was a great relief.

That this sentiment is shared by so many after the passing of a loved one is testament to it's validity. We want to feel bad, or even worse than we felt while they were dying, but we can't. The obviousness of the change is too great, and the freedom is too keenly felt to deny. Many will, however, but only to their detriment. Far better is to admit that we've been longing for this moment, craving the release for our loved ones as much as for ourselves.

So, that here the message that I hope to bring to others--especially the caregivers--as part of this process: 'I have come from the 'other side' to tell you that you will survive, you will get stronger. Although you are powerless to change the circumstances of their death, you will not regret the passing of your loved one. Death is freedom.'

Training will last two weeks, after which I will get my first assignment. At this point I have no idea how it will actually work out. I was concerned about having enough time to serve meaningfully, but I was assured that a few hours a week will be sufficient. Volunteers, after all, are not really on the front lines, but they are a vital part of the Hospice effort.

So begins the adventure.


valgal said...

and i love you for that - to give back what you have learned from the experience. not an easy thing to do...and if anything, it's another rung on the ladder for you to understanding life/death...the essence of living. am proud of you!

Anonymous said...

Me, too. bc