But These People Are Dying!

4 Nov

But these people are dying!  Isn’t it incredibly depressing when you are regularly meeting with people who are treading the last steps of their lives?  Actually, no.

One of the purposes of moving into a hospice for a patient is to optimize the remaining days of one’s life.  The medical and support staff are charged with providing an environment that is engaging and full with all the daily physical needs taken care of as best they can.  By doing so, this environment provides the patient with opportunities to deal with emotional, spiritual, relationship and intellectual issues.  So in many cases, volunteers are meeting with patients who are often committed to savouring personal interactions.  The ensuing conversations can be meaningful, educational and positive for both parties.

In an earlier blog I talked about death anxiety and for many, talking about one’s anxieties is a way of working through them.  Volunteers are not skilled to provide anxiety counselling and in fact are guided to leave that depth of interaction to the professional staff at the facility.  What the volunteers bring to the environment, are opportunities for the patients to engage socially and in some simple way, confirm their humanity.  Through the simple act of daily discourse, they are helped to ease their anxiety.

In this modern world, it is common that family members are scattered at great distances from their parents and homes where they grew up.  Regular visits to a dying relative can then be difficult.  Further, family dynamics may be such that regular visits to a dying relative in a hospice are not desired by either or both parties.  Volunteers and their palliative pets can fill this social void.

People often find that it is easier to talk about difficult subjects when engaged in physical activity; walking for instance, however most hospice residents are no longer capable of strolling through a garden or the halls of the facility.  The simple act of stroking a palliative pet seems to engage the same easing of the barriers to meaningful dialogue that walking triggers and consequently volunteers are often offered opportunities for active listening.

Chatting with an individual over a period of weeks can build bridges of friendship that sadly are always broken.  Yet knowing that inevitable outcome at the start of these relationships allows the volunteer to savour each interaction and learn so much from such a fleeting acquaintance.  Each personal interaction at a hospice, whether it be with your pet, the patients, the staff, or the medical professionals provides an opportunity to learn about one’s own relationship with the inevitability of death and in doing so the value of living each day to the fullest.  Volunteers do not work in a vacuum.  Hospices provide emotional support not just for patients and grieving families but for staff and volunteers as well.  The relationships that develop with the patients are real, however short, and counselling services are available at hospices for all who require assistance in working through issues that may arise as volunteers engage with patients in such intimate surroundings.

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