By Jillian McGuire
When I first started volunteering at my local nursing home, I had no idea the connections I would discover, or of the stories I would be blessed with the opportunity to hear. I was also sadly unaware of the pain of saying goodbye in such a short span of time.
One day after I had been on a week-long vacation, I came back to see Pam*, a resident, lying in her bed, unable to talk, wrapped in the pink and white blanket I bought her for Christmas. I asked her family for a couple minutes alone to say goodbye, certain this was my last time to say I love you to her in person. She was only 86 and had appeared healthier than most residents. “Wasn’t she finally starting to feel better when I left for vacation?” I wondered with tears streaming down my face. I turned to Pam. “Hey, so I wasn’t expecting this, and I don’t know what to say, but I guess I will start with telling you I love you and thank you for being yourself and giving me an opportunity to talk with you.”
I sat in a church pew holding every emotion in on the Thursday morning of the funeral. I watched the slideshow highlighting the best days of her life, and things began to feel painfully real. I wore a gray and white striped T-shirt dress, and a pink scrunchie on my wrist. Pink always had been her favorite color, and mine, too. Now when I see anything pretty and pink, I am sad, but I am also at peace knowing she is free of pain and lived a life that will never be forgotten.
Once I returned home, I wrapped myself in her blanket, now my blanket, and I took deep breaths as I read the note her family attached to a specialized card. It reads, “Pam’s family thanks you for being so kind to her while she was a resident at Hallmark Care Center. Please continue to be a beam of light to the residents there. My name is Daryl I am Pam’s grandson, I just wanted to leave you a note as to how grateful I am for the things you did for my grandma. I don’t know you at all but you are very special to me. I believe it takes a very special person to work in the field of a volunteer and you are one of those people. I know you are hurting right now just like us.”
Another time I sit with Jane, as she struggles to remember the way back to her room, still getting used to the fact that Hallmark is home for now. I wonder how soon will I be saying goodbye to her, days, months at best. It’s hard knowing everyone you love will someday die, but death only ends a life, not a relationship. I know that everyone here will be gone soon and that all that will remain are the memories. Knowing I can make someone’s day by just letting them talk to me, or even just talking with them has influenced and humbled me in ways I can’t explain.
Terry is in good health, and I laugh sitting in her room on her bed while she works on a puzzle. We talk about anything and everything. I’m shocked that because of a decision I made to volunteer, I met such amazing people with great advice and lots of love for me, almost as if I’m there own grandchild.
I think the most important thing as a volunteer, daughter, son, grandchild, great-grandchild, or person is to visit your grandparents, even if they seem like they won’t remember. Make time for them before it’s time to say goodbye. I strongly believe if you don’t you will regret it. I have never met a person who regrets seeing those they love as much as they possibly can.
My experiences as a volunteer have changed my life in so many ways. They’ve helped shape me into a more compassionate person, become more empathic, and helped me realize that I do have a talent and a passion for helping others.
These experiences have convinced me of my goal to help others and have inspired me to go into a field of work as a geriatric counselor. There I can use my skills and knowledge to help those at the end of there life believe the purpose of life is never lost, just more sacred after we say goodbye.
*All names have been changed