Sharing the Unknown (and Chocolate Cream Drops too)
When Mimi Welter’s youngest child went off to college, she looked at her empty nest and wondered how she could use her extra time constructively. As a licensed social worker, she had a long history of helping others. Yet, it was the memory of a hospice experience with her mother that led her to the path of hospice volunteer work.
Seeing her mother die changed her perspective on life and death. She came to understand that the body is just a vehicle for the time here on earth, and that life is supposed to end-clearly, a ‘part of the plan’. Sometimes, that end is even a relief, especially when a loved one is suffering.
“Death is not a tragedy…life is suppose to end here on earth as part of the process,” Mimi said.
Since her decision to volunteer for hospice, Mimi has provided respite for families, as well as companionship for those who are transitioning from life to death. Her experiences have taught her a new appreciation for caregivers and she points out that no one knows how tough it is to be a caregiver until someone is in that situation. There are overwhelming moments of realizing just how much help someone needs.
While Mimi sits with her patients, she makes a point of getting to know them. She finds common ground through shared interests, such as pets, tennis and piano. Mimi has found that most people don’t talk about death. They prefer to talk about life.
One of Mimi’s patients was a woman who loved singing Baptist hymns. Mimi took one of her hymnals home and learned them on the piano. During her subsequent visits, she would play, and the woman would sing. It drove home that each person is unique and individual.
Reminiscing also guides her interactions. She learns about a person through their photo albums, tales of family vacations, discussions of grandchildren and children, and even sharing pictures of old homes.
Sometimes the reminiscing brings about unexpected moments of pleasure, not just for the patients, but for Mimi as well. One patient recalled chocolate cream drops and orange candy of yesteryear. Mimi happened to find those candies a bit later, so she bought them and brought them to her next visit. She knew they would make the patient happy, and they did! They shared a fun moment together with those tasty treats because Mimi took the time to really listen.
But sometimes, those connections require a bit more than listening – they require some serious imaginative work. One of her patients suffered from Alzheimer’s, and wasn’t able to communicate. But Mimi noticed that when the woman’s son was mentioned, she lit up with happiness.
So Mimi went to the library and brought back an Anne Geddes book filled with colorful pictures of happy babies. Her patient loved it. Later, one of the aides thanked her for figuring out how to connect – the patient was starving for attention, and Mimi found a way to give her a wonderful outlet.
For many hospice patients, the outlets for hope and happiness may wane and the unknown looms large. But, Mimi embraces this unknown. She is honored to share that space with patients and families and helps them face whatever might come to pass.
“There’s an unknown place where you are with that person and you are experiencing that with them. I’m a part of that experience. It is unique with each person,” Mimi said.
Mimi has found that vulnerability within hospice patients can invite reflection upon the essence of profound meaning in one’s life. She has seen patients realize the importance of accepting and appreciating help, something that can make the time left on earth more satisfying. And, she observes the ways in which individuals cherish life passions, and honor relationships, adding limitless value to the quality of the end of their life. So, Mimi has learned to honor these relationships she makes with her patients, as well as their families.
“It’s nice to have these moments that keep me returning,” she said.
In the end, Mimi has learned that the dying process doesn’t have to be traumatic. Between the help of hospice and the attention of caregivers, those at the end of their lives can talk about the things that matter, share the values that are most important to them, and hopefully move on from this world with a quiet peace.
- Everyone is unique in life as in death–remember to mine the essence of that person
- Treasure the privilege of sharing the unknown with patients.