Archive for Visiting the Dying – Page 2

As a Hospice Volunteer, I Did Nothing

I did nothing.

Well, that’s not correct since I finished several chapters in the book I was reading.

I did nothing.

That’s not correct either, since I quietly eased down the hallway on several occasions to listen to the patient’s breathing. I was cautioned that he had a soft voice and would always say he was fine or didn’t need anything, even if he wasn’t fine and had needs. Best to listen carefully!

I did nothing . . . unless being ready to answer the door before a visitor pressed the doorbell or prepared to answer the phone before it rang for too long count as something.

As a hospice volunteer on one of my first assignments, I mostly did that “nothing.” After my training (I’ll mention more about that in a bit), I was ready to help! The Volunteer Coordinator had called, asked if I could go over to a family and patient’s home for an hour or two later in the week. I said sure. My task? Make sure the patient wasn’t alone. While I sat in the living room, present and available if “anything” happened, the patient’s weary wife did her grocery shopping.

I read a book. I stood in the hallway and listened. And then I welcomed a patient’s wife home, helped bring the groceries in, and was gone. Before leaving, the wife profusely thanked me . . . for nothing.

The patient died a few weeks later. It was my only visit.

Maybe a month later, I received a request from the hospice’s Volunteer Coordinator: one of the other volunteers couldn’t do their regular weekly visit with a patient. This fella was by himself for a predictable time during the week and everyone—the family and hospice medical staff—didn’t want him to be alone. Get a volunteer!

I filled in. Read More →

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5 Questions to Ask a Hospice Patient

On conversations that matter . . .

What can I say?

With some hospice patients, even when they are friends or family members, we’re unsure of how to keep a conversation going. It may be easy to begin a chat about today’s weather or yesterday’s news, but what about having a conversation that matters?

And for other hospice patients, maybe when we’re first-time visitors from their faith community or a new volunteer from hospice, we can also have doubts about what to say after the introductions and mentioning that it’s hot (or breezy, humid, snowy) outside.

Here are a handful of suggestions for deepening a conversation with someone in hospice care.

(And below the suggestions, if you want to skip my optimistic examples, I reflect about a recent “failed” visit with an acquaintance nearing death.)

5 things to say to someone you know and love . . . Read More →

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On Dying and (not) Hearing

listenNear death, hearing is possibly our last form of active connection with the world around us.

Sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing usually fade with age. However, regardless of our accumulated birthdays, diseases (or the treatments for them) often limit our ability to sense anything other than sounds. Chatting, joking, or arguing while a loved one is lying motionless in a hospital bed are likely heard by everyone in the room.

I’ve witnessed doctors coaching siblings to continue sharing essential information with a seemingly comatose parent. And I’ve also witnessed nurses warning friends or family members to be careful with all conversations. The patient may hear the argument. The patient may comprehend that an adult child is berating a mother or father for not “pulling the plug.” I’ve been in rooms when individuals have joked about trivial things, completely ignoring their “loved one.” I’ve also been with people who stood on opposite sides of a hospital bed while debating money, cremation vs. burial, or where they’d have dinner later that night.

What is the last thing you want your loved one to hear?

Will you refer to him in the third person, as if he weren’t present in the room?

Will she overhear a casual cruel comment?

Will you criticize colleagues at work or whine about incompetent teachers at your kid’s school? Read More →

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