Grief is a sacred journey

Guides to the Other Shore: Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare

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DSC07303As we walked downhill toward the lake, hundreds of kayaks, canoes and paddleboards bobbed in choppy water. Small balls floated near them–bathing caps and bare heads. Wet paddles sparkled as they moved toward us from across Cayuga Lake. I’d come with a friend to take part in Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare, our largest and best loved fundraiser of the year.

After their 1¼ mile journey, swimmers praised the boaters who kept them safe. With sun glinting off the water, they couldn’t see the shore or other swimmers. They depended on their boat.

DSC07287I thought of families and hospice nurses, aides and volunteers who stay close by as someone dies. Like the boaters, they witness and guide. Their presence reassures and says, “We’re with you, and we’ll stay until you reach the other shore.”

This year, there were fifty pods or groups of six swimmers with boats to make a team. The first pod hit the water at 6:30 A.M. They came in a steady stream for hours. As each swimmer neared the dock, their boater waited before circling back for the rest of the pod.

DSC07351 DSC07280 DSC07314Elated swimmers climbed the dock ladder. Some looked fresh and barely winded. Some shivered and leaned into friends for support. They were met with open arms and a cheering crowd, a band, food, and hospice staff and volunteers. DSC07306

DSC07367Like long distance swimming, my husband’s dying felt like an athletic event. Supportive nurses had a sense of where he was and how far he was from his destination. Like the boaters, we stayed with him until he reached the other shore.

Women Swimmin’ makes it possible for everyone to get that kind of support.

DSC07238 DSC07229 DSC07240Ithaca has celebrated Women Swimmin’ for eleven years. All 300 swimming slots were filled a few hours after registration opened. As always, local corporate sponsors supported the cause, including my bank, car dealership, favorite nursery, hardware store, and bagel shop. Businesses provided food and supplies, gave donations, and supported swim teams. Hospicare volunteers manned tables and sold Women Swimmin’ totes and t-shirts to help raise funds for the hospice residence where people can stay when they are too ill to be home or don’t have a caregiver, even if they have no health insurance.DSC07385

Women Swimmin’ raised over $400,000 last year, all for patient and family care. It will likely be more this year. Along with fundraising, the event brings together our community and educates people about hospice resources and help.

DSC07247Thank you, Hospicare and Women Swimmin’.  When it’s my time, I count on you to guide me to the other shore.

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Donate to Women Swimmin’ any time. To learn more, contact your local hospice organization or National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. For other articles about volunteer and hospice support resources, see Gifts of the Heart or Healing My Heart at Hospicare.

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12 Comments
  1. I am so proud of my daughter Anna who has committed to this event for many years now. Another heartfelt, beautiful entry from you Elaine. Thanks!

    • I saw Anna there, but didn’t get a great photo of her. I’m proud to know Anna and all the other volunteers who make a huge effort from fast registration to training to risking their necks. Thank you, Anna, and thank you, Dennis.

  2. This is so beautiful Elaine, and it deepens my already good feelings about this wonderful event and why I participate!!

    • Thank you for your participation, Alice, and for letting me know my blog deepens your good feelings. That’s the intention. I wish I had a good photo of you that day. The strong sunlight on the lake made photography a challenge with my little camera.

  3. Elaine, I love the way you weave these two events together–swimming to the other side of the lake and reaching the other shore of life on this earth. A beautiful essay and important reminder about all the good Hospicare does for our community.

    • It was a thrill being there, Lynne. Watching the boaters hover around the swimmers brought tears to my eyes. We’re lucky to have such a supportive and strong hospice with a great facility. Thanks for your kind words about the essay. It was the best field trip ever.

  4. I wish I could have been there this year but I was on a bereaved mothers’ retreat. Thank you for making the event come alive for me. Next year. Shall we swim? Or photograph together? Cheers!

    • Hi Robin, it would be hard for me to do that swim. I could train, but it’s not about the physical exertion. I can’t wear hearing aides in the water, and swimmers depnd on vocal and visual contact with boater. But we can do photography together or I’ll support you if you swim. It was sweet to photograph and write a blog in honor of Hospicare. I my deep connection to the community in this way. Besides, someone has to be on shore to cheer the swimmers in. Here’s to next year!

  5. What a fabulous event to raise money and awareness. I love your words “guiding to the next destination,” always written in beautiful story-form. 🙂

    • It is a fabulous event, Debby. It gets better every year and galvanizes a whole community in support of hospice work. Plus, it brings joy and hospice together, just as it should. I’m grateful to know Hospicare is here for me and others.

  6. What a lovely and worthy cause! I love the description you gave of how your husband’s dying felt like an athletic event – being like the boater helping him get to the other side. I too can relate to helping a loved one reach the shore, it is a sacred journey yet the exhaustion you experience is equal to the swimmers. Another awesome post Elaine!

    • It’s a worthy cause and, in our community, people think of Hospicare in terms of this joyful event, so it’s an excellent educational tool to make people open to thinking about end-of-life issues. I feel lucky to be associated with our hospice.

      As soon as I observed the boaters hovering around the swimmers in the water and watched the swimmers climbing the ladder to the dock into arms of waiting helpers, I thought of the death journey we all must take. I don’t know just what awaits us on the other side, but I know support is available for getting to the threshold and then it’s nice to think we’ll be welcomed with open arms. Thanks so much for your enthusiastic response.

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