She Takes Life Lessons from Years of Volunteering with Baystate Hospice
Tell us why you began volunteering. When my twin boys were in elementary school, my life was extremely full and busy. In addition to working full-time, there was school, sports, family, church, etc. that kept our schedules full, yet for years I had the constant feeling that something was missing. I felt called to do something with no idea what it was supposed to be. I knew I wanted to help people in some way, but I had no formal education in that area, nor did I have the desire to go back to school. One day in 2006, I came home and found a cutout from the newspaper left on the counter. It was for a Baystate Hospice volunteer training class, and it had a note on it from my husband that read “I think this is what you’re looking for.” Every time I recall his note, I tear up because of what that little cutout has brought to my life. Volunteering has made me feel complete.
What is most gratifying about your volunteer work? I think the most gratifying thing about volunteering is not what you give but what you receive. There’s a feeling you have when you know that you’ve done something for a stranger for no other reason than human kindness — no expectation of getting anything in return. Our program has many different kinds of volunteers — hairdressers, Reiki therapists, massage therapists, legal counsel, etc. — and I remember saying to the coordinator at the time that I wish I had a special talent to offer the patients. Her response was, “you do. You can sit with a person at the end of their life and be comfortable. Not everyone can do that.”
I’d never thought of my presence like that before because, for me, it’s a natural thing to do. Now that I’m a seasoned volunteer, I enjoy the challenge of connecting to a patient in a special way, whether it be with music therapy, hand massage, listening, reading, saying the rosary, or just holding a hand. Each person is unique, so in each assignment, I’m challenged in a different way. Ironically, many people think that hospice work is depressing and all about death, but I find it a great teacher of life.
Recently, our volunteer coordinator asked us to share a patient experience with her. I wrote about a vigil assignment I had accepted. This is where a person is actively dying and the family and staff don’t want them to be alone, so volunteers take shifts sitting with the patient. This last paragraph of my experience pretty much sums up how my volunteer work makes me feel. “And as I walked back to my car, I waited for it — that feeling that rushes over me when I realize that the person I had just been for the last two hours is the person I strive to be 24/7. A person completely in the moment, calm, kind, non-judgmental, loving. Not an easy task when the hectic, critical world gets in the way, but I know it’s possible, and I know that because of my involvement with this wonderful volunteer group I’m honored to be a part of.”
Why should people consider volunteering for causes or organizations important to them? I think volunteering fills your soul like nothing else can. It’s an experience you shouldn’t miss. It can change a person’s life, including your own, by bringing out the best in you.
What do you do for fun? I’m happiest when I’m with my family and friends. Cooking, walking, music, golfing, sporting events, dancing, cards, board games, just about anything that brings us together. We’re a lively group and have lots of laughs.
What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? My daily goal is to be better than I was the day before. I don’t always reach that goal, but I start out trying. Some sort of exercise. One act of random kindness is a must, and so is laughter. I know they sound like corny clichés, but they’re true. I should pick easier ones.
What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? My father, who passed away 25 years ago, so I could introduce him to his two grandsons.