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All I want to do is to “be there” for people. Is that enough? 
Started by eKIM
09 Apr 2013, 2:54 AM

All I want to do is to “be there” for people.  Is that enough?

I'm a hospice volunteer. When I am sitting with someone at hospice and we have a very deep connection (it happens often), I feel as though I am in the right place, at the right time, with the person I’m meant to be with, and for the right reason.  I seem to be able to establish an almost “soulish” connection in a very short time with people who are looking for and need such a connection.  Sometimes words are spoken; sometimes only silence is shared.  I know that my efforts are appreciated and I feel really good about my role as a hospice volunteer.

However, it is common for me, just before a shift, to feel unsure. I find myself saying, “Who do you think you are?  You are just an average person of average intelligence, in a situation meant for highly qualified experts. You are not a healthcare professional. You are way out of your depth.”  Sometimes the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing and hurting someone unintentionally is so strong that it causes to consider quitting hospice volunteering.

My self-doubts rage at me mercilessly at times, that is until I cross the threshold of the hospice. Then my self-doubts disappear like a summer thunderstorm.  The sun shines gloriously.  I feel that I am wanted and needed by someone that very day.  I don’t know who, or why, but I always find that person when I let my heart take me there.  It is quite an amazing phenomena, actually, and it happens all the time.

Having no personal story that would allow me to truly empathize with others and no professional training (though equipped with incredible volunteer training and having great support from the professional hospice staff), I sometime feel like a fish out of water.  Is “bearing witness”, “sharing space” and being a compassionate listener enough?

Does anyone else have similar thoughts feelings and experiences, either volunteering in hospice palliative care or even here supporting others on Virtual Hospice?


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Reply by JennJilks
16 Apr 2013, 2:11 PM

These are good quesstions, eKim.
While I cared for palliative parents, I didn't have the energy to reach out. I ended up in a depression. One is unable to seek help.
The fact that you are there is important. You will never know.
Just being there is fabulous.
Yes, bearwing witness is enough.
I have had a couple of dozen clients. We are appreciated more than you will know.
You, likely, will never receive thanks, as people want to forget the time you spent.
I have a demanding, needy client's son, who comes home stoned demanding I spend more time giving him respite. This has given me perspective.
I spent months sitting for 5 hours every Thursday with a client, while his cold, thankless wife went out to play euchre. No thanks. No donation to hospice for my time. She could afford to hire a caregiver, and had PSW support daily.

That said, I sang at the funeral of a dear woman, Kay Devlin, who had a good death. This is what keeps me going. I was there for her and her daughter-in-law, as sons could not visit her in long-term care. You have to hold to the small things, as we cannot change many.
Circle of influence... 
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Reply by claudia c
16 Apr 2013, 2:50 PM

Dear eKim,

Your open and honest questions show what a caring, self-less AND well-balalnced person you are! 
To constantly reflect on who you are and how you can help means that each time you enter the presence of a fellow human being you are doing so in a fresh and renewed way.   You're never taking the value of your role for granted, getting into a rut, thinking of the help you're offering
as something you've signed up to do.
Rather than question yourself about your self-doubting questions I think it's very helthy. I think we should all do more of what you're doing - asking ourselves - what are we doing here - kind of questions, so we can stay in touch with ourselves and our feelings and our commitment to being there for another person who just needs you to be present.
I wish you energy and loving kindness to be just who you are!
Warmest regards,
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Reply by Brayden
16 Apr 2013, 4:01 PM

Dear eKim,
 I too have volunteered for years and I think it is only natural for us to question at times what/why am I doing this. Without exception, the answer always comes in some form of positive feed-back etc. We always have to put ourselves in the position of the patient and take our que from them. I have had a number of experiences where there is no verbal communication but much has been said thru physical touch and mere presence. That can bring such comfort. I also tell myself that I am doing this for the patient and do not let myself be distracted by dysfunctional family members, negative comments, whatever. Please keep going.
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Reply by eKIM
18 Apr 2013, 10:28 PM

Thanks for the replies guys.  I learn so much from the wise input from others.  I took some time to reflect on your words before I wrote the following reply.

 JennJilks, I believe you when you say, “bearing witness is enough”.  I tend to be a “talker”.  One of my biggest struggles is to just remain silent and let the person speak, or remain quiet when the person wants to share the sweetness of silence.  Thanks for the reminder.  I needed that.

 It is true that we do not often receive thanks for what we do.  I believe that this is due to the circumstances.  People are overwhelmed by their own concerns.  If we pay attention, the thanks for our acts of love, comes to us, in the form of blessings, from the source of all love.

 Do hold on to the small things.  You never know when they are big things in disguise.  I love the following quote:  "Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things. I am tempted to think there are no little things."  - Bruce Barton

 Claudia, I like your comment, “To constantly reflect on who you are and how you can help means that each time you enter the presence of a fellow human being you are doing so in a fresh and renewed way. “  

Everything we do is either a success or a learning experience.  Spending time in reflection after each encounter allows us to learn and grow as we become better at being compassionate souls.  Knowing our strengths and limitations allows us to accept and love ourselves.  Only in this way can we truly love others.   As we grow forward, we reach out in the full and true spirit of love.  Only then can we can be refreshed and renewed as we reach out with compassion, over and over again.

 Brayden,  when you say, “We always have to put ourselves in the position of the patient and take our cue from them.” The key part that jumped out at me was, “take our cue from them”.  Often I find myself falling back on something that I had experienced with another resident at hospice.  No matter how well it went, it is not necessarily the approach for the next person.  Learning to read the clues, as we take the cue from them, is one of the most difficult things to accomplish.  I try to work hard on this.

 When you say “I also tell myself that I am doing this for the patient.”, it reminds me of something that was drummed into us when we trained as volunteers.  We were told to remember to say often to ourselves, “It’s not about me.”  This can be a great reminder for us in a multitude of situations. 

 I find it most helpful when I become very close with a resident and then I have a particularly emotional encounter with them or their family.  Just before my emotions overwhelm me I have learned to stop, take a deep breath and say, “It’s not about me.  If I “stress out”, I cannot be of help to the resident or their family.”  Next, I then force myself to think of all the sweet, tender, happier moments that we shared.  This pulls me back from the edge of negative territory into my positive bubble.  Then I can effectively carry on.  And all this while remaining “fully present, in the moment”.  This is tough stuff, huh?

 Thanks again guys.  Can we keep an open dialog on these topics?  I get so much from them. 


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Reply by marstin
19 Apr 2013, 3:42 AM

Hi eKim,

What you have written tugs at my heart. When Len was in his final days, we had a nurse,Pierre, who came into our home. Although I don't remember much about his nursing skills, the bond that was there between him and I was so strong. I have never felt that kind of friendship happen so quickly and it was so special to me. He would take me away from the darkness that was surrounding my life as we talked about our personal interests and laughed and shared so much. It was so much more than having a caregiver around. He had even offered to come over on the day that Len and I were to be married to get him dressed for the occasion. When he called that morning and I told him that Len had passed away during the early hours of the morning, I could hear the pain in his voice. I will always hold a special place in my heart for him. Please know that what you are doing means so much to the people that you spend time with and that although you may not ever see the families again, you will be thought of as a special light in their hours of darkness.

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Reply by eKIM
19 Apr 2013, 5:31 PM

Tracie, thank you so much for your sweet words.  It’s heartwarming to hear about Pierre and how he impacted your life so positively.  Being male, I like to hear the experiences of other males who find themselves in the field of palliative care.  The women at hospice are so much better at the intuitive side of things that I don’t even try to keep up with them, I simply watch, in awe.

I love the quote by Oscar Wilde   “For one moment our lives met and our souls touched.”  When this happens, it is a powerful, overwhelming sensation.  The only thing that I can compare it to is the feeling of “falling in love”.  Sadly, some people confuse the two feelings and let their human frailties lead them in the wrong direction.

When you properly recognize this sensation for its truth, it is a liberating experience.  I liken it to the most pure form of love: Agape, meaning and referring to:  ‘the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow humans.’

The telling of your story regarding your plans to marry Len is poignant – both sad and sweet.  Thank you for sharing your story, Tracie.

Thank you for your encouragement for me to continue to do what I do at hospice.  If one pays attention to life (rather than simply proceed on auto-pilot), one will notice many things, two of which are:

1)    Often there never is a reward for kind deeds that one performs.  Mostly this is simply circumstantial.  It is not a reflection of the core values of the person receiving the good deed.


2)    Out of the blue, one day, you will be the beneficiary of a good deed, often by a complete stranger or someone that you don’t expect to reach out to you.  It will please you and surprise you.  You will have no idea of how or why.  However, in your silent moments, if you think back on the good that you have breathed into this world, you will understand how and why.

Tracie, if you wish, you could post an update for us and tell us how you are doing and what difficulties you are facing on your journey.  You know that we at Virtual Hospice have a warm and safe place for you, always.  eKim

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