“Isn’t it sad?” “Doesn’t it make you depressed?” “You must be a saint!” These are just some of the comments I have heard over the two and a half years since I started volunteering at the Capital Caring Adler Center. I am not a saint, and volunteering doesn’t make me depressed. No doubt things can be sad, but I have chosen to spend my time at Capital Caring because of my own sad, personal experiences which were made easier by Capital Caring’s hospice nurses who provided end of life care for a friend, my sister, and finally, my father.
I volunteer because of my deep belief that we, as human beings, need to care for the dying as we do for the living. Whether sitting with a patient or family member, taking a wife or a son on a tour of the warm and beautiful Adler Center, helping a nursing aide bathe, feed, or reposition a patient, or filing papers, I am satisfied and even happy about the contribution I am making. A couple of years ago I read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, a book I think should be required reading for all. His words touched me as I read it through the lens of a daughter with an aging mother, a woman who has lost a younger sister to the ravages of cancer, the wife of a man who lost his 80-year-old father to suicide when his decline became more than he could bear, and the mother of two beautiful young adults who will likely one day experience the end of my life. The message for me was clear, each of us wants to write our own story. In the words of Atul Gawande, “You may not control life’s circumstances, but getting to be the author of your life means getting to control what you do with them.”
It is a service and a pleasure to help the dying as their stories come to an end and to comfort the loved ones who have been an integral part of their loved ones’ stories. The dignity and respect with which the hard working people at Adler, and likely Capital Caring as a whole, treat their patients is inspirational, and I truly value being a part of it.