Are you thinking about becoming a hospice volunteer?

Jillian Brasch | February 21st, 2012

volunteersweb If you’re thinking about becoming a hospice volunteer, I encourage you with all my heart to take the training and try it.

Most people who are drawn to become hospice volunteers, but don’t follow through, are afraid it will be depressing. My experience of working with the dying for nine years was anything but depressing. If it had been, I’m sure I wouldn’t have stayed so long. When you meet a hospice patient, you know he is dying. This is completely different from finding out that a friend or family member is dying. With a hospice patient, you don’t experience the shock because you didn’t know him when he was healthy.

At the hospice where I worked, you were not allowed to become a hospice volunteer until one year after you had experienced a close, personal death. I thought this was a very healthy policy. If you’re actively grieving, you don’t want to re-live your own grief by being with others who are dying. However, this is when many people are drawn to become volunteers. Give yourself some time. Trust yourself to know when it’s right for you.

My patients and I laughed and had fun and were sometimes irreverent. And at the same time, we did very important work–we made gifts to say goodbye, we wrote good-bye letters to loved ones, we even wrote funerals and obituaries. We did meaningful activities. Sometimes I helped them find hobbies to divert their attention from pain. If I didn’t feel that we were accomplishing something that was meaningful to them, or that they weren’t in some way benefitting by my being with them, then I did not want to waste their precious time.

I wrote The Last Gifts: Creative Ways to Be with the Dying because I don’t want anyone to die alone, and yet even in our affluent society, it happens every day. I also wrote the book, and continue this blog, because I don’t want you to miss this inspiring, intimate, and life-changing opportunity when it comes up for you. If you engage with someone who is dying, rather than pull away, you will learn immeasurably about yourself. The dying will teach you how to live. For me it wasn’t depressing, it was a sacred privilege. It was awe-inspiring!

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