Lessons from being a Hospice volunteer

Becoming a hospice volunteer was one of the most impactful and important decisions I have ever made. The experience I had and the relationships I have been building in the past months have changed me and are continuing to influence my development as a student on the biomedical path and more importantly, as a person.

Before working as a hospice volunteer, I have not had much experience or knowledge about grieving or the dying process. I am fortunate to not have had to see a close friend or family member in the process of passing away. The day I decided to start working as a hospice volunteer, I was full of excitement to learn from this experience but also a little nervous thinking about the people I will meet and the duties I will have. Nevertheless, the significance of this work and a compassion for people who are fighting against diseases at the end of their lives pushed me past my doubts and anxiety.

It was not easy balancing between completing academic duties and commuting for visits, so I did not have the chance to interact with patients as much as I would wish to. However, each short visit always gives me so much of realizations, thoughts, and feelings. Before I even realized, the trip to Chestnut Ridge every Saturday became a habit that I would feel uncomfortable not doing. The way my patients’ faces brighten up every time they see the volunteers, the stories they tell about their youth, the memories they share with me that are so touching it put tears to their eyes, the big smiles that they have when we played with the old radio to find all the stations with the best music, and the way they hold my hand dearly every time before I leave make me understand how significant my company is to my patients, and how much happiness the little things can bring.

I also learned a lot from the stories that they shared with me, stories about love, loss, war, regrets, life, and death. They taught me that after all the ups and downs in life, at the end of the road, what stays in our heart are happy memories and good thoughts. Thus we should focus on spreading love and making good memories instead of holding on to mistakes and mishaps. They taught me that in the end, the things we regret the most are the things we did not do. Thus we should take all the chances we want to take and forgive all the people we love in our lives while we still can. And most importantly, they taught me, without telling any story, that the purest form of happiness can be felt by making other people happy. “A person with a sore foot cannot care less about anything other than their sore foot”—goes a Vietnamese saying. However, I realized that is not always true after one of my patients, who really enjoys listening to the radio, told me that she did not turn the radio on that frequently because she wanted her bed-bound roommate to be able to keep the TV on—it made her roommate comfortable. It is just amazing to see people who might already be dealing with so much pain and sorrow themselves being selfless to comfort other people. And I also learned this myself: I always feel so fulfilled and happy each time I visit my patients. Their smiles and happiness are definitely contagious.

Ultimately, being a hospice volunteer inspired and consolidated my desire to pursue a career in health care and biomedical to bring happiness to people’s lives and reduce their suffering. I am deeply grateful to everyone who made it possible for me to gain, grow, and learn from this opportunity, and I hope to be able to keep bringing little joys for people who need them the most.