Healing My Heart At Hospice

Elaine Mansfield with Willow, 2009
Elaine Mansfield with Willow, 2009

Guest Blogging today: Author Elaine Mansfield

Healing My Heart at Hospice

“I’m interested in volunteering at Hospice,” I explained, my voice catching in my throat as I choked back tears. “I have experience teaching women’s health workshops. I know bereavement support is important, so I’d like to help with support groups.”

The kind woman on the other end of the phone did not exclaim, “Are you crazy? You’re obviously an emotional wreck.” Instead, she asked in an inviting voice, “How long has it been since your husband died?”

Elaine and Vic Mansfield, 2007
Elaine and Vic Mansfield, 2007

“About a month,” I answered, each word quivering with tears. “I guess I’m not quite ready, but maybe I’ll be ready in a few months.”

My husband Vic died from lymphoma in June 2008. I was desperate to pull myself out of my sinkhole of grief, but couldn’t even make it through a phone call without crying. I needed to wait.

 

Nine months later, I called our local Hospice again and scheduled an interview with the volunteer coordinator. I was ready to garden, wash dishes, or bake cookies.

“We all cry here, and it’s not a problem,” the volunteer coordinator Wendy Yettru assured me as I tearfully told my story. We sat in her quiet office overlooking gardens filled with yellow daffodils and purple hyacinth. A rabbit hopped outside the window. I would like working in this garden, I thought. The plants won’t mind my tears.

“Obviously, I’m not ready to work with patients and families,” I said. “They’d feel like they had to save me.”

“That’s OK,” Wendy said. “There are other things to do.” She was tenderly empathetic and cheerful at the same time. I wanted to learn how to do that.

“Are you good with computers?” she asked.

“I use computers every day,” I said. “I can handle the basics.”

“Would you like to volunteer for me?” she asked. “I could use help with record keeping.” I showed up to learn my new job the following week. As the volunteer coordinator’s volunteer, I got to know Wendy and others on the staff.

“Why would you want to volunteer at Hospicare?” a friend asked.  “Haven’t you had enough sadness?”

“I need to be with people who accept death as a natural part of life, I told him. “I need to accept grief as a normal reaction to loss, not something to hide. I want to learn from death and help others deal with it.”

Elaine and Willow volunteering at Hospice
Elaine and Willow volunteering at Hospice

Four years later, I still spend about ten hours a month helping Wendy with data entry. My chocolate Lab Willow comes with me, whining with excitement when we pull into the parking lot. She knows she’s about to get belly rubs and “good dog” praise from the staff. I wiggle with happiness, too, anticipating welcoming smiles from people who reach out with kindness to anyone who walks through the door.

 

Along with office work, I’ve added more jobs over the years. I write articles for the newsletters and website, volunteer in bereavement, and facilitate bereavement support groups for women who have lost partners or spouses. However I volunteer, I am invited to be just who I am and feel just the way I feel.

Come as you are to Hospice. No disguise, no pretense, no mask necessary.

***

Where have you found support for grieving? Did it come from surprising places? I hope you enjoy these other articles I’ve written about volunteering at Hospice: Gifts of the Heart and After the Last Bereavement Gathering.

Elaine’s bio:

Elaine Mansfield

Elaine Mansfield’s writing reflects her 40 years as a student of philosophy, psychology, mythology, and meditation and her life on 71 acres of woods, fields, and sunset views in the Finger Lakes of New York. She was a nutritionist, exercise trainer, and women’s health counselor for 25 years, taught classes, and wrote extensively about these subjects.

Since her husband’s death in 2008, Elaine’s blog has focused on end-of-life and bereavement issues, marriage, and the challenges and joys of her emerging life. She is searching for a publisher for her book After Loss Comes Life: Memoir of a Marriage (working title) about her husband’s illness and death and her spiritual journey through grief to create a new life. In her endorsement, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye calls Elaine’s book “magnificent and profound.”

Elaine facilitates hospice support groups for women who have lost partners or spouses and writes for the Hospicare and Palliative Care of Tompkins County newsletter and website. Her website/blog was named one of “18 Great Caregiver Stories on the Web that will inspire you” by caring.com in March 2013.

Published by

kathleenmrodgers

Author of the novels The Final Salute, Johnnie Come Lately & Seven Wings to Glory. Former contributor to Family Circle Magazine and Military Times. Future work represented by agent Diane Nine, Nine Speakers Inc.

11 thoughts on “Healing My Heart At Hospice”

  1. This is such a wonderful article! Losing a loved one is such a devastating experience that we hardly know what to do. We put one foot in front of the other and take steps, often with no idea of where we’re going or how we’ll get there. And on some days, our feet just won’t work. We can’t even use them to climb out of bed.
    I salute you, Elaine, for having the courage to face the world again and for having the heart to work with those who need so much. You and Willow, I’m sure, are such a blessing to those who receive your smiles and tail wagging! God bless you both.

    1. Thank you, Joy. I’ve found as much healing at Hospice as I’ve given. I begin a new bereavement group for women who have lost spouses and partners there next week, and it’s always an adventure. There will be eight women with an age range between 52 and 84 and the time since their loved one’s death between one month and eight years! So I’m in the middle in terms of time since my husband’s death and my age. Somehow our differences are never a problem, because we all need support and a place to remember and discuss what we’ve lost and a way to find footing in our new life. Somehow we finally climb out of bed.

      Sending blessings back to you,
      Elaine

  2. Kathleen, thank you for asking me to guest blog at your site and for laying this out so beautifully. My Lab Willow tells me she feels like a movie star this morning. I wonder why?

    Thanks again for your kind support and for sharing my writing with your friends.
    Elaine

  3. How very brave of you Elaine to just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. It took me 3 years to become a volunteer with the Network of Victims Assistance after my brothers murder. What a life changing time that was for me.
    I now work as a companion for the elderly most of whom are on hospice. People often ask me also, why do I want to be around so much sadness? I want to be around them because people I am so grateful for where there for me when I was losing loved ones and because for me it is an honor and a blessing to spend time with people who just might have one foot in Heaven.
    Good luck with finding a home for that book!

    1. Doreen, you had a much more traumatic and sudden grief to deal with. It’s hard enough when the situation is uncomplicated with our human mortality taking its natural course. I commend you for all you have done to recover, volunteer, and help others who need support. I’m sure your heart is wide open. It is a blessing to be around people who are nearing death. My friend’s husband told me last night that she is like an angel now, no ego, just quiet and smiling and beaming love from her eyes. We’re all relieved she is on palliative care and no longer fighting against cancer. They live at some distance, but hope to return to the hospice residence near me. I hope to see her to say goodbye–in silence.

      Thank you for your encouragement and best wishes on my book.

    2. Doreen – Your comment about “three years” really hits home with me. It took me about three years to finally let my little brother go after he went over the side of a mountain in 1983. Like your brother, his death was sudden and tragic. I admire you and Elaine and how you’ve both put your grief to work for you to help others.

  4. Grief, I have learned from you Elaine, is a great teacher. That you have embraced its lessons and can share them with such compassion for others is why you’ve become such a good friend in my new life where I, too, stand alone on my own two feet. You are an inspiration.

    1. Thank you, Jill. Like Doreen, you had a traumatic sudden death to face and digest. I don’t know how you managed in the beginning, but I know you are still working through loss while creating a new life. I’m grateful I found you. We have become good friends in daily life and close associates in the writing life. I appreciate your comment.

    2. Jill – Thank you for stopping by the blog today. I’m grateful you sent Elaine to me in the days following the deaths of my beloved dog and my dad. Then more tragedy that none of us could even imagine. I remember telling you about the horror over the phone and you listened for a long time before you shared your story with me. Thank you.

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