Years ago, on a sunny spring Saturday afternoon, I joined a small group of people gathered to participate in a full day of hospice (Hosparus) volunteer training in Louisville, Kentucky. Everyone there clearly had a desire to be of service and to fulfill the mission of hospice. But, I also sensed a bit of apprehension in the room about what the volunteer experience would really mean. One thing I clearly recall was that, repeatedly, our trainers told us we would receive much more out of the experience than we could ever give back to our patients. I wondered to myself, what does this really mean?
One month later, off I went to my first assignment, a companion visit with a centenarian woman. What I remember about this first visit was how expressive, vivid and kind her blue eyes were as I introduced myself. And, that I was surprised by her joyful smile, despite the severe forward curve in her back that limited her ability to look up. As weeks passed and our visits continued, my heart warmed to her endearing ways; she belted out an unexpected rendition of Jesus Loves Me This I Know, read parts of scripture to me until she tired, held my hand as she noticed the flowers in the window, and told me she loved me as I left one day. In the short amount of time we spent together, she taught me about the value of joy, of music, of laughter and of love.
Our trainers were right; my patient had given me unexpected and treasured gifts, reminders of what connects us to each other. Instinctively, I felt that other volunteers must be experiencing similar moments of inspiring connection, and I wanted to know more. Hence, my journey of interviewing hospice volunteers began, uncovering their profound experiences and reflections, shared in richly authentic voices. Volunteers are privy to unveiled “windows within” our patients, those that lead to the discovery of gifts of grace and beauty, honoring what it means to be human. The Windows Within Project grew out of these interviews.
(Find out more, Windows Within Project Fact Sheet)
It is my hope that by sharing these volunteer experiences, we will learn to better embrace our mortality, further understand the benefits of hospice and enhance spiritual meaning in life, understanding more about what it means to be human.
The Windows Within Project dedicates its work to all the Hospice patients and families who have been our wisest and most generous teachers.
Mary York is a hospice volunteer and Founder of the Windows Within Project. Professionally, she serves as a long-time medical association Executive Director and her educational background includes receiving a Master of Arts Degree and Certificate in Non Profit Management.