Coming into the Ascend Hospice program, I was a naïve young woman who has not had much experience in dealing with death, so I was not sure what to expect. After a year of volunteering, although I am still young, I can say that I am a little less naïve, and there are definitely a couple lessons that I took away from my experiences interacting with the patients and hospice staff.
My first revelation was realizing the social stigma of death in a society that causes us to conceal older individuals who are close to it. Death is a difficult subject to deal with, and we, as a society, realized that it would be much easier to avoid it. So, on my first few visits, I felt a social awkwardness because I was not sure how to interact, especially with patients who were not able to or had difficulty communicating, whether it was due to dementia or an underlying illness that I did not know. I realized that I was guilty of the general social stigma of avoiding situations that deal with death. After spending a year with hospice patients, including a visit with a patient in the dying process, I became more comfortable dealing with the idea that we are all here on earth for a finite amount of time. Death is a process of life, and while society can try and hide it for our comfort, we truly cannot avoid it when it is time. As an aspiring doctor, I know that this experience will prepare me in the future for those difficult days and/or decisions that I may face in the medical profession.
As the naïve woman I was, I expected one crazy, inspiring visit that was going to influence me emotionally, philosophically, intellectually, etc. However, I gradually learned that more often than not the greatest impact comes over time in small doses of experiences and interactions. There is a patient that I visited the first few times who had a bit of a cantankerous demeanor and usually would tell me that she did not want to talk to me, or anyone for that matter. However, I made my weekly visits and I always made sure to visit her. And finally, one day, I was able to do something for her that she appreciated: pushing her up and down the hallway. She had said that the wind in her face felt good. It was small moments of appreciation like this that brought me happiness for the service I was providing at the hospice. It was small moments like this that affirmed my personal goals of doing something in the future that will provide a positive impact on people, whether it be big or small.
Volunteering with Ascend Hospice has been a unique and rewarding experience for me in many respects, but what really struck me was the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff that worked hard to make this program available for students like me. This program allowed for me to give back to my community and those in need while also learning and maturing from my own experiences, taking away lessons that will be applicable for me in my life and future endeavors.