As 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.
I 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.
Elated 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.
Like 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.
Ithaca 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.
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.
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.