Patients Feel Like A Second Family
When most people envision Hospice volunteer work, they may imagine it being limited to institutional settings and to an older generation of service-oriented people. My interview with teen hospice volunteer, Lauren Cashdan, shed new light and refreshing perspective on these stereotypical assumptions.
“I was kind of expecting a hospital feeling, but it wasn’t; it was warm and everyone was welcoming,” Lauren shared of her experience volunteering.
Volunteering for Lauren was not something she took on lightly, having researched many nonprofit organizations and their missions before submitting her volunteer application to Hospice of the Valley. Now, after more than a year, Lauren is thrilled with the satisfaction she gets from her work. She spends most of her time at a home for dementia patients where she knows all the nurses, aids and adult volunteers by name. They know her too! Lauren describes an eagerness to visit her patients, spending hours every Sunday and Thursday summer evenings, listening, providing care and simply being with them. She also mentioned that she doesn’t ever miss an opportunity to let others know how nice her patients are and how much they have changed her life.
Lauren said, “It’s really nice to have the support of a second family,” describing the close-knit feelings she experiences with staff, patients and their families.
And, she adds in her sweet-toned voice, “It’s nice to have the patients fuss all over me, tease me about boyfriends, etc.”
Lauren is referring to the strong sense of mutual love and respect she feels when being in the presence of her aged patients. When interacting with older people, she notes that the wide gap in age seemingly disappears leaving only tenderness and compassion. Yes, Lauren has definitely gained satisfaction from her volunteer work. But, what she receives in return is equally rewarding and gratifying–a sense of being needed as a young person. So much of “real responsibility” in our society tends to be deferred to adults. But, through Lauren’s Hospice work, she revels in the role of responsible caretaker, whether bringing water to the patient’s bedside or sitting with them as an intent listener. The feeling of being needed nurtures Lauren, an unusual experience in this teenager’s life.
Not only are the Hospice team members and patients so appreciative of this teen’s contributions, but Lauren also mentioned the gratitude that patients’ families express. Often times, when she enters the care home, there are bouquets of flowers that greet her, symbols of extreme gratitude from families who feel moved to simply say “thank you”.
Lauren also mentioned the unique sense of gratitude she feels as her volunteer experiences have caused her to reflect upon her own life. In response to my question about what she likes about hearing patient life-stories, Lauren talked of gaining more appreciation for the free and plentiful society that she lives in, having listened to Veterans share hardships and sacrifices, such as living through war times in America.
She notes, “Getting a first-hand story from someone makes me feel especially lucky. It’s not like learning about it from a history book—this person was actually there and lived through the experience they are sharing with me.”
In addition, Lauren mentioned a new awareness she has gained, of what it means to be a caregiver, the time, energy and dedication required. This insight has given her pause to think about her own parents, grateful for their selfless care and commitment to meeting her ongoing needs, beginning in infancy.
As refreshing as these observations are from a lovely teenager, Lauren is also inspired by behaviors she sees in her older patients too, those of deep conviction and courage. She talked about a sense of “not holding back’ their opinion, recalling one patient who was strongly vocal about the way the gardener for the home was planting roses outside her window. Her opinion, voiced boldly, favored a planting pattern more congruent with the vantage point from the window.
As my conversation with Lauren neared the end, I was hesitant to ask what I normally would ask adult volunteers, her thoughts of the dying process and whether these experiences with patients lead her to think about her own mortality. As expected, mortality was not really on her radar screen. However, Lauren did share some profound thoughts about what she observes in patients who are at the end of the life.
“I think eventually for some people, it might kind of be a relief for them to die, because when they get too close to death, it’s almost like a waiting game. They don’t want to eat or drink, they can’t get up, they don’t want company and they are just lying in their room, alone. They are just ready. As sad as it is, you just have to accept it because it’s what’s best. It’s kind of torture to have them just stay alive.”
Her simple and honest observations astonished me, almost as much as her beautiful authenticity, a trait we so often see and treasure in youth.
It was refreshing to spend time with Lauren, and by the end of the interview, I too, joined her patients in feeling compelled to “fuss all over” this wonderful and remarkable young person.
Lauren volunteers for Hospice of the Valley
- Invite teens into a life of responsibility
- Find and nurture mutual love and respect with elders
- Remember to embrace gratitude