Discovering Awe and Wonder
There was no question in my mind when I met Laurie Hernandez that hospice volunteer work was a true “calling” for this special woman. I say this because I often ponder whether Hospice volunteers enter service with in innate sense of empathy or whether it is a passion stemming from life experiences. Not surprisingly, Laurie described growing up in a practicing Protestant family where service to others was an integral way of thinking and living. She describes her work with hospice now as merely expanding that commitment to serve others.
“I believe sitting with a patient is a special calling and you must have a desire and feel for the experience, a deep longing to be there,” she notes.
Although Laurie senses most of her patients spend a great deal of energy thinking of others, she also notes that many have a deep wish to share memories, family history and everyday life. During these moments, Laurie is grateful to just be by their side, to listen and honor what is important to them. She described one experience with a patient who had a passion for cooking and gardening. During visits, the patient would pass along her many favorite recipes and a laundry list of gardening tips to Laurie.
Laurie said, “It was as if she was passing along a part of her life in order for it to remain alive long after she was gone.”
Some patients feel a need to leave behind a personal legacy, others simply long for connection at the end of their lives. Laurie described her visits with a non-responsive woman whom she read Bible verses aloud to weekly. When the patient’s condition deteriorated, Laurie questioned whether her presence was making any difference, yet she continued to make her visits. One day, a simple miracle occurred! Laurie described her patient suddenly breaking her silence as she began singing a robust chorus of Daisy, Daisy Give Me Your Answer Do…It was a joyful interaction that took Laurie’s breath away and evoked tears of awe and happiness as she retold the story to me.
This sense of awe and wonder can also be mysterious for hospice volunteers. It just so happened that Laurie’s mother, who died in 2012, was also fond of singing the “Daisy” song to Laurie during her childhood years (and when her children were born, the tradition continued).
Not only is there a great sense of wonder and awe, but also a unique sense of connection and healing that Laurie feels she receives as she fills the space for her patients.
She notes, “I realize that being a volunteer and sitting with those at the end is a part of healing, for the patient and for myself.”
We talked more about the healing aspect of hospice volunteer work; an elusive idea to put words to, but Laurie expressed it beautifully, “I feel a general sense of peace from the volunteer experience. There is a slow quietness that overcomes me when I am with a patient. Oftentimes, I just concentrate on my breathing and that of my patients, and slowly sync the rhythms of our breath.”
This meditative state and special quietness is the gift Laurie treasures most.
She says, “I think I feel calmer, more connected with others and more at peace with myself through my volunteer experiences.”
It was such a pleasure talking with Laurie. As I reflected upon our conversation, I realized how clearly and easily she could articulate the gifts she receives from hospice patients: a sense of connection, healing and peace that enriches her life every day.
Laurie’s life journey and beliefs have evolved over the years (as she reveals) and it is clear to me that she is living a beautiful life of service to others. It was me who wanted to sing after our time together, Laurie, Laurie, thank you for all you do…
Being in her company was a true honor.
Laurie is a volunteer with Hospice of the Valley
- Honor the sense of awe and wonder
- Follow your calling in life
- Live in service to others