A Simple Embrace, the Abundant Gift of Connection We Can Freely Offer to Others
The afternoon I met Dee, I arrived a bit frazzled by the day’s events and about five minutes late too. I had called earlier to let her know as much, but when I arrived, she just smiled and joked with me about the absurdity of concerning myself with such trivial matters. But that’s Dee—she chooses to set aside insignificant worries and instead brings her attention to what really matters in life, connection and support of others.
As we talked, I learned that Dee sought out hospice volunteer work as a result of fulfilling a community service requirement of a yoga class—not through any direct patient or family affiliation with hospice. Although Dee described dedication to the study of Buddhism and Hinduism, she talked about embracing the hospice experience with fresh clarity and curiosity, like that of a journalist.
Dee said, “The combined perspectives of my religious studies and that of my volunteer experiences have given me a totally different look at life.”
“Materialism is not what brings happiness. It’s a false sense of happiness,” she says.
We talked more about how most people collect “stuff” for satisfaction, but that these material things never seem to translate into real happiness. Dee knows that connection to others and family is where real happiness is attained.
Dee reminisced about various encounters, where patients spend their end of life days in a facility, being stripped of ego and nearly all worldly possessions; this is when she feels an elevation to a place of supreme meaning occurs. She recounted entering a nursing home and simply embracing her patient, an act that resulted in tears because this woman felt no one cared to visit her anymore. And, a similar moving experience when Dee witnessed a long-ago glow return to her patient’s face as she peered at her husband in a photo, a loving-glance that Alzheimer’s had since stolen from her.
“Everybody has a connection to someone, we all do, and we must find it,” Dee says.
She recalled situations where patients’ life events, such as military service or personal interests (whether art or Elvis), are those precious links to connection. She mentioned that sometimes, as volunteers, we must find that connection. The most significant realization for her was that we are all here to serve and help each other. It’s not that Dee was unaware of this before volunteering, but rather her experience as a hospice volunteer solidified her belief.
Another simple, yet profound observation Dee recounts, is that no one wants to be alone. She knows that when the end comes, patients are happy and grateful to see someone by their side.
“It’s as if their veil is being stripped away and they are realizing how important it is to need another human being.” Dee said.
I mentioned that other volunteers have commented on how similar the birth process is to that of death.
“Yes, one thing I’ve noticed is that you are born needy and needing people to take care of you, and in the end it is the same,” she concludes.
As we wrapped up our visit, I asked Dee if our conversation had shed any new light on her perspectives. She mentioned that it had helped her better understand and articulate the essence of life.
“Dying makes life more real, and you think more about the value of life by sharing end of life experiences with others. As often as we are pushed and pulled by circumstances, being with a hospice patient brings a focus to the present moment. When you are with someone who is dying, you are here and now and nowhere else. You have to be present for this person.”
Dee mentioned that her dream upon retirement is to become a full-time volunteer for hospice, living the rest of her life in support of others. Her wisdom, unique perspective and desire for connection with others will undoubtedly enrich the lives of patients and all who are honored to be in her presence.
Dee is a volunteer with Hosparus
- Know that letting go of material possessions can elevate us to a place of supreme meaning
- Remember a simple embrace is an abundant gift of connection we have to offer others
- Realize how important it is to need other human beings