Throughout my experience as a hospice volunteer for the 2016-2017 school year, I learned not only a lot about the patient care aspect to death and dying, but also the spiritual. Growing up as a devoted Christian (and currently am today), I was always taught that death was not something to fear, but rather to embrace for we are joining God in a better place. However, without having to deal with death on a personal level before, I never fully understood that death is more complex and difficult to deal with than that. By witnessing patients in their final stages of life week by week, I discovered that no one, even those like me who are well versed in the concept of not fearing death, comes to terms with death without some form of grief. We hold onto life, which of course is important to value our time on Earth, but are also very much afraid to let go of it when need be. Whether it be our desires to hold onto strong relationships with those we love, deep passions such as careers, hobbies, etc., or from societal influences, we do not deal with death lightly.
Nothing can replace the moments when I have been able to bring rays of sunshine into several patients’ days. To see a brief smile or receive a kind thought or story improves my mood and outlook on life, so I cannot imagine what our presence as volunteers does to brighten a patient’s day or week. Hospice care has taught me to appreciate life (as cheesy as that may seem). But, it is true because as I bring in all of my own stresses and concerns into the hospital, I realize that nothing is as great as what these patients are dealing with. Although I cannot fathom what they are personally going through, this program has taught me the value of interactions with others, even when they are strangers to us. I believe the presence I have provided some patients by simply sitting beside their bed and lending a listening ear or warm voice, I have helped to provide peace and comfort. That means the world to me and I hope it did to the patients as well.
Not only has the volunteer aspect of my experience with hospice care changed my individual viewpoint, but so have the reflection meetings. Although I have highlighted the positive impacts hospice care has brought me, not every visit has been so uplifting. Seeing one patient one week and not the next easily put a heavy weight on my heart. Having a patient pass away during a shift does not get any easier no matter how many times I visit. However, being able to talk with fellow students and Pastor Alexander has helped immensely. Being able to discuss how to overcome the negative aspects of hospice care, such as the literal process of dying as well as the spiritual, has helped me to have a better outlook on death. As I continue on to pursue a doctoral career, I have no doubt that my experiences through this program will impact my ability to interact with patients and to provide comfort when future patients pass.