November 13, 2012

Healing My Heart at Hospicare

Wendy Yettru, Volunteer Coordinator

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

The kind voice 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.” I was desperate to pull myself out of my sinkhole of grief, but couldn’t even make it through a phone call. I needed to wait.

Wendy Yettru, Volunteer Coordinator

Nine months later, I called Hospicare 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,” Wendy Yettru assured me as I tearfully told my story. We sat in her quiet office overlooking gardens filled with yellow and purple spring blooms. A rabbit hopped outside the window. I could work in the 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 that had to save me.”

“That’s OK,” Wendy reassured me. “There are other things to do.” She was tenderly empathetic and cheerful at the same time. I needed 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 met others on the staff.

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

At the volunteer computer with Willow

“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.”

Three years later, I still spend six or seven hours a month helping Wendy with data entry. My dog Willow comes with me to Hospicare, 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 write articles for the newsletter and website, volunteer in bereavement, and facilitate bereavement support groups. In each way I volunteer, I am invited to be just who I am and feel just the way I feel.

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


Where have you found support for grieving? Did it come from surprising places? To learn more about the process of grieving, see my article “Grief and Depression: Are they different?” For ideas about supporting yourself in grief, see “Loneliness and Solitude in Grief” by Marty Tousley.


  1. December 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Janet Meaney


    This September 25th marked the 28th anniversary of my son, Johnny’s death at age 28. Everything changes; even grief. In the early years after Johnny died, comfort came from the presence of my living children, the loving kindness of my husband, and the patience of my dearest friend, Anna who, for years, sat quietly through every occasion that I processed first through how John might have thought and felt about it. 2012 is the first year I did not summon my children to be physically near me for an hour or an evening on Sept. 25. One great comfort has remained the same,and that is talking to Johnny, often while I am gazing at the night sky, expecially the moon. No words have come back to me, but I have the experience of how it has always felt to talk to him. Occasionally I ask him how to help a suffering loved one. Again, no words. I then know just love them, be still, be with them. My volunteer work with Hospice came long before Johnny died. It still helps. Love and peace, Janie

    1. December 14, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you for your wise words and warm heart, Janie. You help me understand that working with grief, mine or anyone’s, is a slow process. And you help me feel just fine about my secret inner conversations with Vic, asking for advice, complaining about doing a chore he once did, telling him how much I miss him, asking him to help me with his mother, simply feeling how grief and my love have become the same thing.
      Sending love and peace back your way,

  2. November 16, 2012 at 9:37 pm



    OK, I love your postings, Elaine, every last one of them. This one, about Hospicare volunteering, really resonates. Thank you, thank you!

    1. November 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Cindy. I miss meeting you when you volunteered in the residence for lunch and look forward to seeing you again. Best to you.

  3. November 16, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Martha Stettinius


    Beautiful, Elaine!!

    1. November 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Martha. I’m enjoying your posts on FB.

  4. November 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Lynne Taetzsch


    Thanks, Elaine, for pointing out that grief is a normal response to loss. I think sometimes I try to hide mine, and it doesn’t work.

    Hospicare’s Singing Grieving Group helped me so much in my own grieving process.

    1. November 15, 2012 at 7:11 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Dear Lynne, Four years ago, there was no possible way to hide my grief, but now I can stuff it a little better. Hiding is a useful skill in many situations–like at the grocery or with people I hardly know. But with friends and family, it only isolates me. Thanks for your comment.

  5. November 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Marty Tousley (@GriefHealing)


    Just beautiful, Elaine! I’ve just added a link to your post at the base of my own article, “Healing Grief through the Gift of Volunteering,” here:

    1. November 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Marty, for your good work and your generous heart. I love those who love hospice.

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