I have lost friends and a family member due to cancer. Bonnie Walsh was my friend and motivated me to become a direct care volunteer. Now, Bonnie and Mother Theresa are my inspiration. The feeling that I can give someone some comfort by spending time with them at this difficult time is enough for me and I go home feeling fulfilled for such little giving on my part.
According to research, volunteering improves physical and mental health. Who doesn't want that? It is a way of giving back and being thankful for our everyday blessings. I have been a volunteer for about 13 years and I hope to be able to continue for many more. For me it's a privilege to be able to spend time with people that one day I will see again.
I made the decision to become a hospice volunteer after an interfaith seminary experience that I completed in 2003. My classmates in that very interesting program included several who had been deeply moved by their own hospice volunteering. Their stories drew me to seek out the UHR direct care training, and I was thrilled to learn from the Volunteer Program Coordinator and the others in the course.
What happened after that far exceeded my wildest dreams -- I met the most amazing families and individuals, and still count many as close friends. Because of my connections, often with the family member closest to the individual in hospice care, I have visited Finland, been emotionally "adopted" by a mother of eight children in my generation, read a Spanish Bible to a bedridden man, bought groceries for a devoted wife that could not leave her husband at home alone...the list is long and deeply memorable for me. I tell everyone that will listen to me how much being a hospice volunteer has enriched my life.
I am overcome with nostalgia as I look back on my high school experience and prepare to head off to college. Starting my freshman year, I joined Youth for Hospice with little to no understanding of how much of an impact I would have on Hospice and Hospice would have on me. Although my heart was definitely always in it, I don’t think I could ever completely grasp how much Youth for Hospice changed me until I passed on my title as President of Youth for Hospice to next year’s leader.
Youth for Hospice taught me many things: How to plan events, effectively lead others, and remain calm in the face of pre-event chaos. However, the most important thing it taught me was the resilience and bravery of human nature, as well as the power of love. One of the events we hold every year is the Tree of Life event at the Palisades Center Mall. United Hospice of Rockland sells stars to place on the trees in honor and in memory of loved ones. When I sat there my first year, I felt a bit out of place. I felt uncomfortable asking people for money in the middle of their hectic day, but soon I began to embrace the meaningfulness of the event and approached each person who passed by with a smile. At the event, strangers embraced Hospice with open arms. They told stories of loved ones who had passed and loved ones struggling. They told stories that broke my heart and brought a tear to my eye as I remembered memories with my loved ones who had passed. Although these people were sad, they were also unbelievably thankful and happy to be able to share their memories with the Youth for Hospice members. It was like we were an outlet for them to tell the stories that they had been yearning to tell for so long.
Although we are constantly reminded of the evil in the world every time we turn on the news or the radio, it became apparent to me that there is actually a lot of love and kindness out there if we are willing to listen and truly engage with those around us.
Sometimes the stars align. That’s what happened to me and how I came to Healing Hearts.
When I retired I knew that I wanted to volunteer with Hospice in thanks for the loving care they had given both my parents and my family. I wasn’t sure in what capacity that would be. Coincidentally, there was a blurb in the newspaper seeking volunteers at UHR for a children’s bereavement program. I spent my entire professional life working with children and families so it seemed to be a natural fit. Add to the mix, the years before my sister was suddenly widowed and left with two preschool age children. How helpful it would have been for them to have a program such as Healing Hearts to support them in their grieving process.
It has been eight years since I joined Healing Hearts and through the expert guidance of coordinators and the wisdom of my other volunteer colleagues; I have expanded my personal knowledge of grief and the grieving process.
Each Healing Hearts session begins by first nourishing our bodies with pizza, followed by dividing up into age groups. Activities are planned to enable the children to express their feelings about their losses. Regardless of age, they are part of a group where others are experiencing the same feelings that they are. They are not different. The adult group members support each other in learning how to cope with their own grief while at the same time helping their children deal with theirs.
Knowing that I have aided these families at such a difficult time in their lives and given them the tools to continue in the future makes this a very unique and gratifying experience