Exercising Compassion and Building Friendships
When I talked with Kurt Rogahn, I sensed some hesitation about sharing the rewards of hospice volunteer work.
One might assume his reluctance was rooted in the sadness related to hospice work, but nothing could be further from the truth. What does, however, lay in the center of Kurt’s heart is service to others, giving back to his community and the innate rewards of those efforts, none of which he perceives as self-serving. He describes his approach to hospice volunteer work this way:
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of being there; the courage to be there really opens up all these other possibilities,” he commented.
Being there for others is important to Kurt and supports his belief of worldly reciprocity. Years ago, when his own father was dying of cancer, geographic distance did not allow for Kurt to be available. Nor was hospice service available to his father. Becoming a hospice volunteer where he lived was a way in which Kurt could make up for it. When pressed to describe how he has changed since volunteering for hospice, Kurt does acknowledge that the work draws upon characteristics that are not necessarily his everyday strengths.
“You can’t help but have that softer side come out,” he says.
Being an active person, leading a fast-paced life and sometimes accused of being blunt by nature (honest yet loving feedback from family members), Kurt believes he has learned to slow down, be present and more tempered with his opinions. He likens his volunteer work to physical exercise, where sensory and intuitive parts of his modest personality, ones that don’t always get a strong workout, build up strength.
This strength sometimes comes from assisting with mundane tasks. Whether it is cleaning an electric razor for a patient or reading the sports section of the paper aloud, Kurt exercises helpfulness.
He also builds his intellect. Drawing upon his skills as a long time journalist and writer, Kurt reminisced about helping a patient finish a book project, completing the unfinished manuscript and then presenting it to the patient’s family. Another patient asked hospice for a volunteer to help him create a series of videotaped messages for his family to view after his death. Hospice assigned Kurt.
Mostly, however, Kurt aims for careful listening, exercising compassion, building connection, and demonstrating genuine friendship with his patients.
“I go in to see a patients and I make friends. I make a friend that happens to be sick and yes, that person is at the end of their life, but if I go in and provide a distraction for that person, that is a good thing,” he says.
Borrowing on his journalistic talents, Kurt draws people out with inquisitive questions and becomes a new audience for old stories. For him, a simple inquiry, tell me about your family, results in receiving descriptions of a sea of experiences and life memories.
What is your favorite book?, another a great question Kurt poses to his patients, often leading to interesting interactions. One elderly woman once asked Kurt to read her beloved series of Christian romance novels aloud. They both enjoyed a laugh over Kurt’s masculine voice portraying the heroine, saying…”He came toward me with a fun sort of glow in his eyes.” These kind of light-hearted encounters are balanced by the more serious. Kurt recalled one woman who wanted to focus her energies solely on the Bible, and with Kurt at her side, they engaged in meaningful theological discussions. Wherever patients decide to venture intellectually, Kurt is right by their side.
From the mundane to the sublime, patients can always depend on Kurt—a journalist at heart with a heart for the journey.
Kurt Rogahn is a hospice volunteer for Unity Point Hospice of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been a volunteer since February 2005. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is a senior proposal writer with Pearson Education in Iowa City, Iowa. He and his wife, Lynn, a retired teacher, have two grown children and three grandchildren.
- Exercise the courage to show up
- Make service to others a commitment
- Remember the value of building friendships