Being a hospice volunteer has been quite the learning experience. From meeting new people to gaining insight into the medical environment that contains the geriatric to realizing the importance of social interactions, this involvement has been full of realizations – both good and bad. Another important piece of the program was the weekly meetings. While I did not really feel the need for emotional support (and they interfered with watching Sunday football games), they were invaluable for hearing the opinions of the other volunteers. Often times, the unique experiences of another volunteer would lead them to a certain thought or opinion that I never would have realized on my own, but was important and interesting all the same.
First, I would like to stress the importance of doing something like this. I think everyone knows older people can be very lonely, but I did not realize how extreme this loneliness is for many of the geriatric, especially those in hospice care. Often times, just sitting with a patient and holding her hand was enough to brighten the patient’s day. This really opened my eyes to the importance of human contact through all stages of life, and the comfort it can bring. This is especially important in hospice, as comfort is really the best care that can be given.
This led me to realize the issues with the way society currently treats and deals with the older generations who are not really a part of our society anymore. It is a very rigid, non-individualized system that can seem very callous. While I realize that this is most likely a product of personnel shortages and other circumstances (economic feasibility, perhaps), I do not think it would be too hard for facilities to provide a little more opportunity for individualized interests. Some patients wish they could go out and see a movie, some patients miss having friends and social interactions, some miss ordinary things like grocery shopping, and others just want someone to read them a book. I do not think it would be terribly difficult to take some patients to the movies one night, or have a breakfast club, or take them to a grocery store. These things do not even have to take place everyday. Seeing how much one visit a week could brighten my patient’s entire week made me realize that these people are so starved for a break in the monotony that just one special experience can make all the difference in their happiness and comfort. In addition to that, I would really urge any family members of a hospice patient to visit him/her. Even if they are busy, a 10-minute visit can really change a person’s final outlook on life for the better.
Finally, I would like to briefly address the age gap between us volunteers (college students) and the hospice patients (generally geriatric). While younger people certainly have a different perspective on life than the elderly, this does not mean we cannot interact effectively or form meaningful relationships. Additionally, I was frequently surprised to find common ground in areas I wasn’t expecting to find it.