After 20 years of being a dedicated wife to my beloved and loving husband, he passed in August 2007, following suffering several cancers and enduring many procedures. Three years later I attended grief counseling Capital Caring offered as I was unable to cope with my grief. After 6 weeks of counseling, I emerged strong and ready to give back by volunteering with Capital Caring.
I worked with so many patients and families who were struggling every day to deal with the diagnoses that their loved ones had a short time to live and sometimes families would feel their volunteer did not understand their pain. It’s at this time I felt it necessary to gently let them know that “I have walked in their shoes” and that I know and feel their emotions. After proclaiming this, they open up to me and start to feel very comfortable with me, letting me in their lives.
The most rewarding and soul-wrenching part of my volunteer work is doing Vigils — being at the bedside of those who may have about 48 hours left to live. Here, I feel I’m treading on “holy ground” where I’m given the most awesome responsibility of guiding that soul from this life to the next. At times, depending on their religious belief, I read verses from the Bible, sing hymns, and pray with and for them. I recall one patient opening her eyes while I was singing, “How Great Thou Art”, to ask me if I was an Angel and was she in heaven. To which I replied, “no I’m not an Angel, but you’re almost there in heaven.”
Many patients, no matter what their faith background, are afraid to die, unsure where they’re going, and need someone to hold their hand. I remember one patient who had a stuffed monkey she called “Charlie” who was her best friend. While I was sitting Vigil with her, I took her hand and told her, “It’s Maggie.” She dropped “Charlie” and clung to me. She passed hours later.
And so it goes on, experience after experience, where one feels enriched and privileged to give one’s time to these special people who are facing death and their grieving families who can’t imagine life without them. I show them that I care and feel their pain and that it is OK to cry and mourn their loss. As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” After leaving someone’s bedside, I feel my soul is at peace, knowing I eased that person’s transition.