Leading With Kindness
I met Fred at a coffee shop that he had never been to before, and, he insisted on having what I was having, a hot herbal tea, something he had never tried before. I mention this because I realized later that his graciousness and ability to serve in a supportive role, avoiding directing the situation or conversation in any way is his profound gift. Fred is like the physical embodiment of the simple cordial act of opening a door for a stranger, saying “you first” as he motions with his hand to move ahead of him, hoping that he let a little ray of grace and kindness into your day.
As I recalled our discussion, I was struck by how dedicated Fred is to seeking out the many little opportunities to serve, those requiring only small simple acts of kindness yet ones that have the ability to bring a big smile to a patient’s face and great warmth into their heart. Here are a few examples of those acts of kindness:
♦ Upon entering a home, Fred noticed minimal family and environmental support for an actively dying patient. He wondered how he might help this person find some peace. It occurred to him that by playing cards together, this simple act of play could take the patient’s mind to a place of peace for a just a little while.
♦ Noticing that one patient in the Hosparus Intensive Care Unit was fixated on a craving for a Coke, Fred made it his mission to make this a reality for the man. Afterwards, the patient allowed a big wall come down and was willing to share a laugh with Fred.
♦ Knowing a patient was in need of moving some furniture from one place to another, Fred volunteered to help out. In doing so, he met the patient’s sister, witnessed the reuniting of siblings, and aided in delivery of the patient’s last rights.
Having volunteered for a year and a half at the time of our meeting, Fred mostly talked of his experiences at the Hospice Intensive Care Unit. In addition, he shared a little about his experiences with patient respite care too. But, what struck me the most was a central theme that I only later recognized, one woven throughout all of his interactions. To Fred, every patient was different, every situation new, no two backgrounds were the same. Yet, what was similar throughout was that Fred was seeking this variation out, looking for small ways to identify patient needs and to fill them to the best of his abilities, truly grateful for the experience to serve others.
One significant way this opportunity to serve revealed itself was in the beautiful retelling of the Veterans’ recognition bedside ceremony that Fred presides over. As the blanket, flag and certificate are presented to the patient, so are words of appreciation and reverence for the Veterans’ service to our country.
Fred recalled one particular ceremony this way, “One gentleman was unresponsive throughout the ceremony, but reacted instead with one tear dripping from his eye; he could not talk but he could hear and that single tear said it all.” That single tear is a metaphor for how Fred’s perspective of dying has changed before volunteering for Hospice.
He shares how his view of end of life has evolved, “My personal connection to dying is different now; I’m more at peace with it.”
He goes on to describe what has changed, “I see the whole process differently than I did a year and a half ago. I lived my life with some degree of immortality, never thinking about the inevitable. But now I do think of that. I am more caring in a softer way, more easy-going about death now and more at peace with it.”
His patients have unknowingly given him the gift of compassion and the ability to live a more warm-hearted life.
Upon concluding our conversation, Fred stood up and mentioned that this was really the first time he stopped to think about what motivates his desire to volunteer and how these experiences have influenced the way he lives his life now.
Unknowingly however, he mentioned to me earlier what could be defined as his personal belief statement: “Sometimes at the Hosparus Intensive Care Unit, I’ll search out the patient with the least bunch of friends or family. I find this so rewarding to sit with someone who needs my presence and kindness—to seek out those who need support the most. I feel this peace within me that I can transmit, through prayer, silence or just by being present. Those are the ones that I find my contributions are the most useful.”
We do too, Fred and we thank you.
See Fred Woerner’s Reflection
Fred is a volunteer with Hosparus
- Seek out sharing little acts of kindness
- Become more at peace with your own mortality