Finding Gratification in Serving Others
John Sherwood has led a life of service. His commitment to volunteerism began in high school, and maintained a strong influence in his life as he spent 30+ years as a hospital administrator, served in Vietnam, worked to promote organ donation, and serves as a member of the Rotary Club. Along the way, he lived the Rotary motto “Service Above Self” by volunteering with his church, the American Red Cross, Emergency Service organizations and other not-for-profit organizations.
As John approached retirement from “paying jobs”, he was on the lookout for new opportunities to share his talents and skills, John read a story in his local paper on the need for 11th Hour Volunteers. He hoped he would be a good fit – he had a background as an EMT and paramedic, which meant he was comfortable dealing with the medical issues those in hospice face. He also had a strong faith, which allowed him to speak freely and openly about the spiritual side of what those in hospice might be thinking about as they came closer to death. Today, John volunteers for 11th Hour Hospice, respite care, and Honoring Veterans programs.
Volunteer work with hospice has made John’s life much more rewarding, and the focus on serving others is deeply gratifying. Hospice care has made John a much better listener, and he has found that he can especially relate to those who served their country. His discussions with patients often focus on the lighter moments of their military service, and sometimes he hears stories from them that their families had never heard before. Those conversations become a way to bring the family a little closer together at the end.
To that end, John has discovered that the cell phone can be one of the best tools in his arsenal. When a patient mentions something they did during their service, John can search for information and pull up things that will make that patient smile, such as a photograph of the plane they piloted. Something as simple as seeing that plane they flew so many years ago can bring intense happiness.
In one case, John listened to a story from a patient about his World War II ship, and he Googled a picture of that style ship. The patient recalled that the bow number on his ship was 17 – and sure enough, when John enlarged the picture, it was the actual ship that man had served on so many years ago. It was an utter delight for the patient and a very satisfying moment for John.
One of John’s patients mentioned the movie ‘We Were Soldiers.’ He pointed out that he was there – not in the movie, but in the real battle in Vietnam that the movie portrayed. Over time the man talked a bit about his combat role, and they shared stories that helped the patient express some of his emotions. John has learned to connect with several patients through his veteran status, but he also has a connection with those who have never served; he can often sit with someone while their caregivers take a break or run an errand and find common ground with them in just a few minutes.
Those minutes not only help prepare the patient for what is coming, but also help the family cope with the impending loss and the feelings they have when they say their final goodbyes and strive to move on with their lives.
“Everyone approaches the end of life differently; those who are open to acceptance are the ones who have generally made their peace in life…with God, their family, their neighbors and their enemies,” John said.
Just as everyone dies differently, everyone grieves differently, too. For instance, John recalled an open memorial service during the holidays several years ago. There were two widows in attendance. One of them was relieved that her husband’s suffering had stopped and was actually glad he had passed; but the other still had been unable to go into the bedroom closet and look at her husband’s clothes. His death was still too raw. They were each going through the grieving process in their own way.
John has also learned that finding a common humanity between himself and the patients in hospice can lead to amazing connections. He once had a patient who had been in more than 50 marathons, and his daughter was a runner as well. John mentioned that his two sons and at least one of his grand kids was planning to run the Cherry Blossom race in Washington. The patient suddenly lit up, asking about their race times, talking about the accomplishments of John’s family members.
John and that patient also connected over two of the man’s favorite things: pancakes from Cracker Barrel and Cornflakes. This past Christmas, John was even called to make a home visit as Santa for a young wheel chair bound patient.
It’s all proof that the simplest things are what matter most at the end, and that profound connections can be forged through all of these experiences.
- Remember the value in serving others.
- Look for the simple things that connect us to one another.