“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.
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?”
“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.