I encountered a situation yesterday that was a first in my ten years as a hospice volunteer. A couple of days ago the Volunteer Coordinator sent out an email asking for a volunteer. She gave a summary of the case including the town, first name of the patient and a description of the requested visit. The patient was in my town so I responded immediately that I would like to help this family. The next day a secure email was sent to me with the patient name, address and contact information.
Last night I called the patient’s wife to schedule the visit. A woman answered the phone and I asked if it was Helen, my contact. “No”, the shaky voice replied. I explained the reason for my call and a slight sense of dread was building. “No need to visit, he died about an hour ago. He’s still on the floor waiting for the funeral director to get him.” I could hear the tears in the voice on the other end of the phone and then it clicked, I know this person.
“Jan, is that you?” I asked, sure that I knew the person on the other end of the line. “Yes” she replied. I gave my full name, said how sorry I was and asked if there was anything I could do in that moment. There wasn’t anything to do, except to express my deepest condolences which is what I did. She thanked me for the call and we said good-bye.
I could picture my acquaintance on the phone. Tears, that keep coming when you think you’re all cried out. I could feel her concern for her newly widowed mother. I wondered if she ate dinner or if she would sleep over her parents home to ease the adjustment of that awful first night. I imagined a fitful night with not much sleep, except for an hour or so when the emotional exhaustion just overwhelms your body and forces you to rest despite your mind’s best efforts to keep you up. I could sense the headache, the nasal congestion and the scratchy throat, remnants of many tears shed. I felt her grief and I took a little piece with me. I still have it.