It was my first time to volunteer for Transitions Hospice. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous and had put a great deal of thought into this appointment in the days leading up to it. I kept on hoping that I would say the right things in the right way.
When it was time for my actual visit, I walked up to Anne and introduced myself. I was greeted with a warm and heartfelt smile which immediately put my nervousness at ease. Unfortunately, this also provided me with the false confidence that this meeting would go exactly as I envisioned it. As I shook her hand, I proudly directed my eyes towards my Chicago Cubs lanyard hoping that it might become a conversation starter for us. It was something that I had purchased after learning that she was a Cubs fan. However, she didn’t even seem to notice it. She simply returned her gaze to the wall in the same fashion I found her in.
After several moments of silence, I was determined to get our interaction back under my control. I regained Anne’s attention and began asking her what she usually liked to do with her time. She thought about my question. Seemingly eager to return to her daydream state, she dismissively said, “Not much.” She promptly returned her attention to the wall.
Similar exchanges with the same results took place before I truly listened to her. Anne, without saying much through words, was speaking volumes to me through her behavior. This behavior told me that I was not in control of anything nor was it my job to be. My task wasn’t to fix her somehow. It also wasn’t to gain some kind of social reward through my own agenda. My job was to be there and be there in a truly altruistic manner. This meant Anne was in control, not me! And it wasn’t until I fully accepted that role that I began to genuinely reap the rewards of my visit.
For the remainder of my visit, Anne and I sat in complete silence. As the staff cleaned the tables around us from a lunch served earlier, we sat there watching them. Several residents came in for their daily exercise routine and we observed them in silence. Once in a while, Anne and I made eye contact. Each time, she would offer me a polite smile and I would reciprocate.
It was through those silent exchanges that I understood –I shouldn’t have feared on how I will communicate with a patient. By simply being present, I have shared my generous spirit with Anne. Additionally, by giving her full control of our time together, I was able to communicate that the only motive of that generosity was her happiness.
This insight was reaffirmed to me as I prepared to leave. As I conveyed my appreciation to her for allowing me to spend time together, I asked her if I could come back to see her. To my delighted surprise, she offered a convicted “Oh, please do!” Her appreciation was greatly felt and my excitement was uncontainable!
Spending time to visit Anne in the future will now be based on the foundation of serving others that I have learned from today’s visit: instead of over thinking things, I will appreciate that sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, all that is needed is to show up and smile!
Nathan is a husband and a father of three. His enthusiasm to become a hospice volunteer began after he sat bedside with a close family member while they passed away. Admittedly terrified at the idea of being a part of that experience at first, he eventually came to accept it as a colossal gift in terms of personal growth. His hope is to further discover gifts of personal growth through hospice volunteerism.