Always Time for Laughter and Joy
When I asked Stephanie Lopez what she treasures from her volunteer experience, she said, “I love that there’s still time for laughter.”
Not surprisingly, my interview with her also began with laughter and joy. Although we were celebrating conquering Skype technology at the time, I suspect Stephanie would exude this kind of happiness and jovial approach to a variety of her life experiences.
Although caring for her 83-year-old mother, Stephanie’s personal journey into Hospice began twenty years earlier through participation in a college practicum. It was there that she developed bonds with patients at the end of life. Even though years have since passed, current life circumstances have now allowed her to re-ignite her passion for Hospice volunteering; the wisdom she gains now from her service, coincidentally, is coinciding with her approach to caring for her aging mother.
Being fully present is one of the most important aspects of Stephanie’s volunteer work.
She says, “I meet my patients on whatever part of the journey they’re in and I simply listen. It is a personal gift for both of us, sharing and listening to memories and stories.” Many volunteers talk about this importance of “being present” for patients, but Stephanie articulates how listening with purpose can deeply enhance the experience.
“What I learned from being with Hospice patients is how important memories are, how important it is to talk about them, and how important it is not to forget them; they are part of the fabric of our lives. I think for patients, they find that they are able to reach into their emotional bank and re-live beauty, courage, rapture and even hurt; it makes them feel alive again in that moment of re-telling,” she said.
Stephanie also acknowledged the sort of “communion” that happens between volunteer and patient, that in a very short time they connect and become a part of each others’ lives. She describes the discipline she exercises in remaining emotionally detached, while being present, as a type of courage. This is something that she can reach back and hang onto when she is with her own mother whose memories often come flooding back in these last stages of her life. That connection can take other forms as well.
Stephanie recalled a palliative care patient who had a great fondness for the opera singer, Placido Domingo. So, with a simple search at the local library, she found a recording and played it for her patient at the next scheduled visit. Stephanie described a beautiful shift of countenance in the patient, a difference that this special music triggered.
As important as sharing memories are, sharing laughter is just as high on the list of “musts” for Stephanie and her patients. At each visit, she talks of anticipating a joy that she hopes will emanate from their time together. However long that may take, eventually, she feels confident that there is joy ready to seep through any pain and sadness of the moment and that the joy is transferring to patients. She described a visit with a patient who had recently had a stroke and was quite ill. But, Stephanie instinctively knew that he wanted to laugh too and as she talked with him a brief smile brightened his face. This happiness is what Stephanie wants for her own dying process.
“It’s about finding what is joyful-a belly laugh, that is what I want when I am dying. The ability to laugh and to find something to laugh about,” she said.
Stephanie does acknowledge there are times when courage is needed for the work Hospice volunteering. There are times when she feels volunteers, by visiting with patients, have the unique opportunity to reflect upon their own mortality. She recognizes that thinking about this within this framework of the experience requires a special kind of courage.
For Stephanie, the great mystery of being a Hospice volunteer is that it allows her to connect with someone who is a stranger, seemingly, for a moment in time. And, however brief, that she always remembers, “It’s the patient’s time to shine.”
That shine is undoubtedly, a joy emanating from Stephanie and reflecting back to those in her company.
Note: See Spotlight on Stephanie Lopez, Part II, a special feature highlighting her work with the Hospice of the Valley Salutes veterans program.
Stephanie is a volunteer with Hospice of the Valley
- Make time for laughter
- Share and receive the gift of story and memories
- Find the joy amidst pain and sorrow