Life, A Universal Journey
When I reflected upon my conversation with Diane Bykowski, I was struck by how articulate she was in describing the ways in which hospice volunteer work enhances her life. That clarity of thought, no doubt, stems from years of teaching in the classroom, a job Diane left in exchange for retirement four years ago. In 2004, her father entered hospice, an experience that transformed Diane’s understanding of the potential to design a peaceful and natural death.
“What hospice brings to us is a beauty about the dying process which alleviates the fear of leaving this world,” Diane said.
She believes that the answer to alleviating this fear begins with teaching our children about life’s journey and that with aging comes wisdom, and with that wisdom comes the understanding of dying—that leaving this life is universal. Diane knows Hospice is an educational bridge of understanding, not just for the patient, but for families and friends as well, a needed service to help them through grief and acceptance.
Along with understanding the value of hospice, Diane has learned to accept the fragility and unpredictable nature of life. She reminisced about her visits with patients and uses those memories as consistent reminders to improve the way she lives, treasuring small things in her life. She described such a moment via an early morning walk with her dog, Zoe, beginning with admiration of the beauty and mystery held within the glorious Arizona sunrise set against the backdrop of majestic mountains.
One of those “small things” to treasure in life is Zoe; an adorable, 7 lb. white rescue dog adopted by Diane five years ago. Zoe plays an important role not only in Diane’s life but also in the lives of patients they visit through the Hospice of the Valley Pet Connections program. Together, Diane and Zoe have shared many moments of joy, sadness and healing over the years. Zoe will often sit quietly on a lap, or rest her head upon a shoulder and her presence often triggers fond memories for patients of pets they once knew and loved. Sometimes, she is just pure entertainment and a much-appreciated distraction from sadness for patients and families.
What is even more remarkable about Zoe is that through interactions with patients, she continues to teach Diane about things such as the value of non judgmental love, the power of healing touch and value of being intuitive to others’ needs.
“Zoe knows when she needs to be entertaining and she knows when she needs to sit quietly and passively and just let people touch her,” Diane says.
Diane described one particular visit where she and Zoe would visit a patient who struggled with hearing loss. Diane would pick the dog up and bring her close to the patient’s face and Zoe would gently lick him. Often times, Diane would pick up a non-responsive patient’s hand and place it upon Zoe’s head, and to her surprise, the patient’s fingers would start to move and a glow would come over them; sometimes even a spoken word would emerge. These were wonderful and special moments and ones that families often cherished.
As a hospice volunteer, Diane uses that same intuitiveness that Zoe employs naturally (via her dog instincts), adjusting to every patient’s individual circumstance. Such needs are different from day to day and/or visit to visit. What is consistent, however, is that she always learns something new about the end of life.
“It is a life-long training – the Hospice volunteer experience,” she says.
I think Zoe feels the same way, and together, they strive to create beautiful memories for hospice patients and families.
May master and dog continue to spread joy through the Pet Connections program and continue to celebrate the beginning of each day with their beautiful sunrise walks.
Diane is a volunteer with Hospice of the Valley
- Know there is beauty in hospice
- Treasure the smallest things in life
- Teach our children about the journey of aging and our final rite of passage