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?”
“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.”
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 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.