When did you become a hospice volunteer?
I had the training last fall and started here in May. A friend of mine passed away right after I took the training, so I needed to take some time for myself, to process. I loved the training—it had so much valuable information to use as a volunteer, and for how to think about death and dying in a healthy way.
What led you to this work?
I had this gut instinct that hospice was a place where people needed care and attention and someone to be present with them, to listen to them, to show a little bit of love. I was looking for an opportunity to do exactly that—to exercise my compassion and become more comfortable with the experience of dying. It’s something that no one ever talked with me about growing up, then suddenly I was an adult and I started to have this existential dread. I think that was me tapping into my mortality, and I thought, how can I learn more about this? If something scares me or makes me uncomfortable, one of the best ways I can become more comfortable is just to approach it and become more familiar. That’s what I’ve found with hospice as well.
Did you have any hopes or fears around volunteering?
My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t know what to do or what to say to someone who was in hospice care, or their families. And my hope was that I would find the words, or the way to be present for them in a way that served them and is meaningful. Both of those things came true! But I found that the best thing I could do is to listen and ask people to tell me more about themselves. “Tell me more” became my three favorite words from my volunteer training, and that I’ve used with my patient and actually in all of my relationships. It really is wonderful when someone just looks at you and listens and says tell me more about this thing that is important to you. No one has really asked me for answers to their struggles so I haven’t had to worry about having answers to these questions I didn’t know how to answer. Really it’s just been about being there.
You’ve been involved in a number of different areas as a volunteer. Can you share about these experiences?
I have my patient I’ve been visiting for quite a while now, but I’ve also been working with the Music and Memory program for our patients with dementia, bringing personalized music to them. I have the fun job of making the playlists, putting them on the iPod for them and sending them out with the care team. It’s so much fun to do—I spend two hours in the office listening to all this wonderful music, and I see what an effect it has on me. I leave the office upbeat, full of energy—I like to think that’s what our patients are getting from it too. You find a little joy and comfort in that music that means something to them. I went and visited one of our patients and brought the iPod to them. It was a really powerful experience to do that, to see how they reacted. It was wonderful.
I also had the spiritual care training. Carlye and Micah approached me about volunteering to support the chaplains with spiritual care for the palliative care patients. It was wonderful training with Penny, Michele and Micah, our chaplains, on how we can support the spiritual needs of our patients and what kind of presence we can bring to them to provide some comfort when they’re really struggling. I find myself using that training with my hospice patient and I anticipate I’ll use it going forward.
Do you have any favorite story about your time with Yolo Hospice?
I think my favorite memory was having my own experience of what the Music and Memory program can be like—being reminded how much I can be uplifted by music as I was working on the playlists. There was one day I came in and I’d been feeling a little bit gloomy. I sat down at the computer and I was making this playlist of Big Band music from the 30s and 40s, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones. When I was leaving I realized there was this lightness I felt, this joy that I felt. My mood had been completely transformed just by immersing myself in this music. It was wonderful to experience that and think that must be what our patients feel.
I’ve also really enjoyed spending time with the family I’ve been visiting in hospice care, and I have been inspired by my patient. He’s been a runner all his life, and his love for the sport has encouraged me to finally take it up. I’ve even signed up for my first 5k race at the Davis Turkey Trot on November 18th! I’ll be joining other members of Yolo Hospice in the race, and I can’t wait to tell my patient about it.
Sadly for us, Kasia is moving back to Canada this month. She had warm thoughts about her time at Yolo Hospice.
I’ve really found the work that I’ve been doing has been incredibly fulfilling and I hope to continue in hospice work when I move back to Canada. I have really appreciated being part of this incredibly caring community. I’ve learned so many skills for helping others and being compassionate—and listening skills! I’m so, so grateful to Yolo Hospice for all the experiences I’ve had here.