Monthly Archives: May 2014

What Being a Hospice Volunteer Has Taught Me

You might think I’m about to tell you a terrific story about an experience with one patient that changed my perspective on life and now I know why the caged bird sings. Well, I haven’t a clue.

So far the EXACT. OPPOSITE. is true.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve experienced special moments but honestly I don’t know what to route for. We’re supposed to want people to stay alive, right? And I do. I will miss her, correction I would miss her if I didn’t have my regular Thursday morning meet-ups anymore. At the same time, she’s sick. She’s unhappy. She’s lonely. She wants to be with her family but she is confined to her room. So what’s worse? Spending your days in agony just waiting for death or death itself?

My patient was put on hospice almost a year ago. This is rare. Usually you only go on for six months and if there is no decline they take you off. Crazy enough — when they take you off, you get worse, then you’re back on. They made an exception in this case though and she hasn’t been taken off.

Some people see clients for one week. I’ve been seeing this client since December.

I’m baffled by how entrenched she still is with the day to day. I would be pontificating on the meaning of life endlessly. Knowing me I’d be rehashing every last one of my love affairs from first grade onward. I’d think why didn’t I just relax more (advice I could use every day.)

She and I have moments where she talks about regrets and different choices she made along the way.

Honestly I can’t say I’ve come up with any grand realizations. That’s not why I decided to become a volunteer but I feel some pressure to have brilliant things to say about the experience. When people ask me about it I kind of look up to the ceiling as if to say I think about it and I haven’t come up with any thoughts worth expressing just yet. But give me time, I promise. That’s what I say as they’re running from me in utter disgust.

However two things have become abundantly clear to me since I started:

(1) You will continue to be in conflict with your family until the day you die. Even if you feel you’ve done everything right, they still will let you down because they’re all human like us. If we want other people to remember all the good in us, we have to look at them through that same lens.

(2) No matter how old you are, when you wake up in the morning you don’t know what the day holds. Your day could be completely ordinary until that moment when you’re totally blown away thinking, “Life is so weird and fun. I think I’ll do this again tomorrow.” That was my day today.

I was listening to my hospice patient. She has three or four stories she likes to loop through. Then all of a sudden she said our conversation reminded her of this poem Tress, and she proceeded to recite it to me!

She learned the poem when she was 13 at a school in the South End in 1940. I ended up leaving late and getting stuck in traffic, which was a bummer because I’m behind on work assignments. Freelance assignments. Trauma to Art assignments but the delay was so worth it.

And now I give you Trees by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.


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My Mother’s 60th Birthday

Today my mother would have turned 60. Even though she’s been gone for 8 years, I still feel like our relationship is complicated, as most Mother-Daughter dynamics are. All her motherly wisdom is in me but she’s gone – so it’s hard to figure out how/when/what to think about her.

A lot has happened in her absence. I graduated college. I had my first big heartbreak. I was sidetracked in my career for a while but now I’m a full-time writer. I fell in love.

My brother became a chef. Then he started a family and met his soul mate, Lindsay, who has become like a sister, I think. I’ve never had a sister so I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’m happily still learning the ropes.

Our family expanded, and still has this great loss to deal with.

Eight years have gone by and what does that mean? What I’ve discovered is that it means you’re left with a ton of choices. The really annoying kind of choices where you have to consciously decide to either rise above or sink below.

One decision is: how will I remember her? Will I push her out of my mind so it’s ALMOST like it didn’t happen? Will I try my hardest not to think about “it” so that if ever I do think about it I immediately change the channel?


Will I listen and try to find meaning in the universe around me? Will I make time to be filled with wonder and marvel at how spectacular life can be? Even though existence is rather peculiar.

It’s drudgery. It’s ecstasy. It’s exhausting. It’s magnificent. It’s cruel… it’s kind. And you don’t have control over what happens. You only really decide your outlook — how hard you’ll fight, how brave you’ll be, how generous, how empathetic, how honest, how happy…

I go back and forth — dance a little on each side because the challenges teach me and remind me to be grateful for all of the good.

Last night was one of the moments where I got to experience some of the wonder. I was handed a little inspiration to say all that I want to say today.

Last night, for a reason I cannot explain, I decided to re-watch Spanglish (Thank you, Netflix). I had forgotten how much of that movie is about mothers and daughters. At the end, the mother asks her daughter, “Is what you want in life to be very different from me?” Isn’t that the question we daughters all ask about our mothers? The difference being that if my mother said THAT to me, I’d realize how foolish a question it is, because I’d be honored to be like her.

Side note: Every year I donate blood on my mom’s birthday. If you are thinking that I am telling you that to say, “Hey I’m better than you” then you’re correct. I’m hoping that guilt turns into action. Donate blood today. There are a lot of stats about why it’s good but my favorite is that most premature babies need transfusions. That could be you saving a little baby’s life… today!


Filed under Be Grateful, gratitude, grief, Lauren Muscarella, loss, mother, parent, Volunteer