40 for 40: Kaitlin Clear’s Story

I started volunteering with Capital Caring in 2010. I had recently moved to Washington, DC from South Florida. In 2008, I lost my mother after she fought a long battle with head and neck cancer. In the final days of her life, the hospice team we had to help care for her were truly angels on earth. The kindness and compassion they showed her and our family was unlike anything I have ever witnessed before. Through the healing process of her death, I thought of many ways I would be able to cherish her memory and always came back to hospice and palliative care.

I signed up for a patient care volunteer training class upon my arrival in DC and have been at it ever since. I knew from the start that I wanted to be actively involved with direct patient care. Our patients are in their final transition of this life and that can be a scary and frightening time. I knew that I wanted to provide a comforting, calming presence to our patients, during one of their most vulnerable times.  My time spent with patients is magical, heartwarming, and occasionally heartbreaking. While spending time with patients depending on their needs, we can talk about any number of topics, we can hold hands and sit in a quiet, peaceful, reflective moment, or spend time outside getting some fresh air. Many times, patients will want to tell me about their families or important moments in their lives, I am always delighted when I get to hear such stories. Our patients have so much knowledge and history to share and I always learn something new from them. Their spirits are absolutely inspiring.

The time I spend volunteering with patients who each face their own struggles has granted me the most rewarding seven years of my life. Of the many truly incredible experiences I have had being a volunteer, one memory stands out. I was assigned to be with a male patient, who was alert and active, although facing the final stages of cancer. We met and spent many afternoons talking about his childhood and he frequently mentioned that he was not afraid to die. He had a cell phone that he frequently liked to use to attend to his personal matters. Although he was quite aware of the stage he was in, he continued to live his life and carry on about his “to do” list. There was something so inspiring about him carrying on, while still so aware of what was ahead. He did not ponder his fate but very much lived every single day to the fullest, even if that was simply making a few phone calls. That is what made him happy and gave him peace during such a fragile time.

Spending time directly with patients truly fills my soul. Each patient’s journey is unique and it’s my job as a volunteer to help them navigate their final transition. I truly hope that my patients have received as much love, support, faith and guidance from me, as I have from them. It has been an absolute honor to spend time with my patients as they begin their journey into the next life.

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