Hospice volunteering has been one of the most enriching experiences of my entire Princeton career. I entered the program unsure of what to expect. I envisioned long, sterile hallways, desperate patients, and emotionally harrowing visits. I’d never seen someone at the end of their life, and I was worried it might be a graceless time, one that did no service to the lives the patients had lived before. But graceless it was not. What I saw during my time serving Princeton Care Center, in the first warm smile of a patient, was far more meaningful than I ever could have imagined. There was hope, humanity, and humor here. There was space and time to reminisce on the beautiful journeys each patient had lived. Every great story deserves an epilogue, a moment to conclude, analyze, and reflect on the impact of the tale. Hospice was, in so many words, that moment. I was given the gift of being able to meet with patients experiencing this moment, as they concluded their individual stories. In learning from them, I now understand so much more of what it means to be a compassionate caregiver, a patient advocate, and, most importantly, a human being.
I began volunteering in October and logged the majority of my volunteer hours at Princeton Care Center. Here, I met Jane Goodsmith, 91, and Divya Rao, 89. Ms. Goodsmith, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, was one of the first patients I interacted with, and her infectious energy and optimism will be with me for the rest of my life. Jane’s “doing the best I can” outlook was positivity at its bluntest. Jane’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude was inspiring, because she always chose to use this straightforwardness to let others know what she loved about them. It’s too common for us to resist giving compliments, despite knowing how good they can make us feel. Jane, however, will ceaselessly compliment you: your hair, your smile, your shirt, your shoes. We came to make her smile, but in the end, she always beats us to the task.
The other patient I visited was Ms. Rao, who is battling COPD. Ms. Rao has been a life-long teacher and took it upon herself to teach us something each time we visited her. I’m sure Michael Smitherman’s essay will paint a more eloquent picture of how powerful a meeting with Ms. Rao could be. Suffice it to say, each minute spent with her was a lifetime of wisdom. I will never forget the lessons she had for us regarding tolerance, motivation, and the inherent goodness of human beings. Moreover, Ms. Rao’s worldly experience has been an inspiration for me to always live life to the fullest. She can talk for days of the places and people she’s seen over the years—not to mention the books she’s read (and written). I hope to one day look back and find that my life is filled with as many wonderful memories and experiences as hers. I thank the Pre-Med Hospice Volunteering Program for being one of them.