Gifts of the Heart: Volunteering at Hospice

Elaine and Vic, 2007

Elaine and Vic, 2007

The lights darken on viewing night for senior project documentaries created by Ithaca College Journalism majors. The well-done films cover topics from musicians to foreign language instruction for young children. I came to see the documentary about volunteering at Hospicare.

The film begins as I tell of meeting my husband Vic in 1966. The story is interspersed with photos of Vic and me in the 1960s before skipping to 2007, the summer before Vic died when we loved and grieved for our lost future. He seemed deceptively healthy that summer, but his eyes are sad and tired. In one image, I wave goodbye to my old life.

Watching the video, I first feel self-critical, as I often do. Then I decide I like the new woman I’ve become. Yes, she is older and weathered by loss, but she doesn’t complain about the small stuff as she once did and isn’t as irritable and fussy as she once was. She’s softer and weeps more easily. She learned a thing or two from death and loss.

I love being part of a generous and loving volunteer group and feel moved by the wise words of Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteers, and Saoirse McClory, Director of Community Outreach. Even my dog Willow has a walk-on part, since she’s been welcome at Hospicare since she was eight weeks old.

I’m grateful to the documentary creators Erin Dunphy, Lauren Mateer, and Kyla Pigoni who captured the essential heart of hospice volunteering and did a beautiful professional job on the film. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned and all that has been healed in me through my volunteer experiences. I hear myself say, “Death is a tender time, but also a time of tremendous gifts of the heart,” and realize that I have a wider perspective now. I also know I’ve kept my promise to Vic and myself to create a good life on my own.

I’d love to hear what helps you survive loss and move forward to create a new life. I recommend another blog called “Healing My Heart at Hospicare.” You might also enjoy learning more about our world-class Hospicare and Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County.

  1. What a wonderful, life-affirming, spirit-deepening DVD. Ought to be recomended viewing for every human on the planet. So fundamental, profound, spirited, nurturing, joy-filled. Thanks !!

    • Thank you, David. The Ithaca College Journalism majors captured the heart of Hospicare and the reasons people volunteer there. I was proud to be part of it. And it makes me so happy and encouraged to read your response. I’m still worn out from the NC trip and made an all day trip to Albany (with friends driving) yesterday for the Don’t Frack NY rally. It seemed too important to miss, and I’m glad I went. It was wonderful meeting you and Ann and Liz’s brothers and their families. It couldn’t have been a more joyous occasion for me with new family, old family, and old dear friends pitching in to get me there and make it all possible. David and Liz glow still, and I give their marriage a 99.9% chance of being a success. I have Ann’s email address and plan to send her a note this week. Warmly, Elaine

  2. you are so flippin brave Elaine. So honored to know you. much love, eve

    • Thanks, Eve, for calling my brave. My self-critical self says I should hide my feelings better, but I don’t know how. It’s either live with a basket over my head or accept that human feeling is normal, natural and healing. I’m just as honored to know you, dear Eve.

  3. Elaine, thanks so much for sharing this video. I was very moved by it, and especially the things you said in it.

    I was in a singing grieving group at our Tompkins County Hospicare after Adrian died, and it was amazing.

    I can’t recommend them enough, and wish I’d know about them sooner.

    • Our Hospicare and Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County is terrific in so many ways and offers much support when people need it most. I’m grateful for all the healing that has happened for me in this hospice community and grateful that I’ve found a way to be part of this supportive organization. The singing groups are excellent, too, as are the bereavement support groups of various sorts. I’m glad we both know we have this support available when we need it. Thanks for your encouraging words.

  4. This film is absolutely lovely, Elaine ~ and what a treat to see your beautiful self so prominently featured in it! Your comments are wise and wonderful. I will share this video on all my social media sites, and I’ve added a link to your post at the base of my own article on this same topic: Healing Grief Through the Gift of Volunteering,

    • Oh, thank you, Marty. You make me happy and the young women film makers will be so happy when I tell them that appropriate people are seeing their film. I thought the three young women journalism students did a remarkably tender and sensitive job at capturing the love that hospice volunteers bring to their work. They made the video in 15 weeks as their senior project in the last semester in school while having other classes, too. Ithaca College has an excellent journalism program and it shows. I loved being part of it and working with them–and Willow enjoyed her part, too. I was self-critical when I first saw that the video began with my tears, but that’s me–and it’s about time I accept who I am. I love, and I also cry easily. Sending you love and gratitude. Thanks for the link to your article.

  5. Elaine, I’m left with such a feeling of peace by this. It may even be a taste of the next realm. Kudos to those brilliant young women. And to you, dear one, quite willing to let your love pour forth in whatever form it takes.

    • I agree that the young filmmakers captured the peace of the Hospicare community. As you know, volunteering has been a big part of my healing process. It’s hard to feel like a victim when I know the extent of other’s suffering. It’s also a place where people express their feelings–a natural for my temperament. Many volunteers at hospice show up out of their own experiences with grief, wanting to help others through this inevitable part of life. A remarkable community. Thanks for watching, reading, and writing.

  6. This video is a tribute to Hospicare and the many ways in which they serve our community, and features the volunteers like you Elaine whose service is a gift from the heart.

    • Thanks, Jill. I was floored by the professional job done by the Ithaca College Journalism students (now I know why Ithaca College has such a highly recognized journalism school), but was most moved by the way the video captured the loving heart of volunteering at Hospicare. Credit goes to Wendy Yettru who runs the volunteer program and Saoirse McClory who manages community support. As you know, the Ithaca community strongly supports Hospicare with many sorts of volunteer opportunities from working with patients to grocery shopping to fund raising. It takes a village.

  7. Elaine, Erin forwarded your email to me and I just wanted to thank you again for being a part of our documentary and coming to the screening, and also for writing this beautiful post. We are so proud of Gifts of the Heart and so grateful for the opportunity to make it and to work with amazing people like you. Sincerely, Lauren.

    • Thank you, Lauren. You did an amazing job with this video and many who read my blog love it. Some write messages here and others send me private emails, but all are touched by your work. One hospice nurse commented she thought it should be part of hospice volunteer training programs everywhere. I will keep trying to get the video into the hands of the people who will appreciate it. Thank you for your contribution and for letting me be part of your creation. I enjoyed meeting you and wish you well.

  8. Hi Elaine,
    What an absolutely beautiful video. My heart feels up with such love for all those dear people who volunteer for hospices all over the country.
    I so look forward to your blog updates. I like how positive they are and how much soul you put into them.
    A great job by the journalism crew.

    • I agree that it’s beautiful, Anne. I was so delightfully surprised by the result of their efforts. The young journalism crew captured something essential about volunteering at Hospice and they only had a 15-week semester to pull it off. It showed how our grief brought us to volunteer there and how grief can lead to open-hearted kindness. Thanks also for your encouragement about my blogs and for becoming a friend despite distance. Warmly, Elaine.

  9. Excellent video. Deserves to be shared widely. I’m doing just that. Thank you! I don’t know what we would do without hospice volunteers!! The need is great. The gift given is also a gift returned.

    • Thanks, Rea. Didn’t these Ithaca College seniors do a great job on their senior project? It was amazing how they grasped the heart of Hospice. I saw all the senior films in the spring, and there were many good ones This one most touched the heart. It’s great if you share it. So appreciated by the filmmakers and me.

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