Category Archives: Volunteer

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?

Or…

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!

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

What is fulfillment?


Cupcake love

Love in the form of a cupcake, a gift from my awesome friend Ms. Maggie Sylva.

Yesterday I celebrated my 26th birthday. I was inundated with love and warmth from people I’ve known all my life as well as new friends. On my 25th birthday this type of love did not surround me. My job was not a source of fulfillment, so I gave that excuse permission to infect the rest of my life. I’ve spent the last year correcting this by nurturing relationships that are important to me and committing to giving back to my community all the time, not just when it’s convenient or the mood strikes. This endeavor includes encouraging the people I love, sharing my positivity abundantly, picking up trash everywhere I go, volunteering, and smiling at strangers—to name a few.

Right around this time last year inspirational seedlings were growing, the result of which was this blog! MamaQuest is one of the most fulfilling, enjoyable activities in my life. I’m not sure if that makes me sound like a nerd or a smartypants or a dumdum. However it may seem I mean it with sincerity. Writing MamaQuest allowed me to confront the loss of my mother while building the courage to build a truly satisfying and happy life. Those moments of intense loss where I would give anything to bring her back are the fuel source for this labor of love, Trauma to Art, and the enthusiastic smiles for strangers.

Starting MamaQuest felt really easy. Building it into something of value and substance is a different story. First I had to accept that part of this process includes making mistakes. Knowing I can’t do everything I want to do with it right away is the most difficult feat but also accounts for why it is such a source of fulfillment.

Fulfillment, a word I toss around liberally, is such a strange beast. Let’s crack open the etymology of it.

fulfill +‎ -ment (This word dates back to 1775.)

Fulfill is a verb meaning:

1.             to bring about the completion or achievement of (a desire, promise, etc)
2.             to carry out or execute (a request, etc)
3.             fulfill oneself  to achieve one’s potential or desires

-ment is a suffix of nouns, often concrete, denoting an action or resulting state.

I like this word but this definition makes it seem like fulfillment comes from completing something. Based on my experience with MamaQuest and now with starting Trauma to Art, I disagree emphatically. Conversely I would like to keep this word in my vocabulary so I’ll have to make one small adjustment to its definition.

Fulfillment: n. A lifelong commitment to consummate a desire or promise by keeping your creation in a state of consistent evolution.

Striving for fulfillment onto itself is the big picture and for some reason last year I saw fulfillment as something to be achieved, placed on my mantle and forgotten. Viewing fulfillment as a catalyst for action instead of an elusive final destination has helped me frame my approach to everything and has kept my neuroses at bay. I think my friend Ariel said it best, “Get out of your head, it’s going to play games with you.”

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Filed under for fun, giving thanks, gratitude, grief, Lauren Muscarella, loss, mother, Volunteer

The Role of Mother Figures after Loss


Volunteering at a hospital adorns me with friends whose ages span from 70 to 6. It’s actually quite enlightening. Occasionally a child needs looking after while a parent attends to adult things and I have the privilege of listening to a first grader read to me. Having friends who are older is especially important since my mother and I never had the chance to talk about life the way I would have liked. How we spoke when I was 19 is vastly different from how we would speak today.

For that reason, I make it a point to nurture and cherish the blips of time I share with women who are senior to me. So the other day I was visiting with one of my 70-plus friends to practice my French. Somehow we started talking about the passing of her husband and she shared a beautifully romantic excerpt of that story with me.

Toward the end of his life, her husband said, “I’m exhausted. I’m going.” She responded acrimoniously, “Wait a minute, you’re not going anywhere. We haven’t discussed how you want to have your funeral. How I am supposed to take care of everything? I don’t know how you want everything to go!”

They never did talk about it. Two days later he passed away and she had the unpleasant job of going to the funeral home to make arrangements. When she got there she learned that her husband had already gone in three months earlier and taken care of everything. He knew that she was going to be stressed, upset, sad, distraught, and he didn’t want her to have to take on one more thing.

This relatively small action is none other than a labor of love. And that is the kind of lesson I would have loved to learn from my mother. Even though friendships with mother figures in no way make up for her absence, they do enrich my role as a student of life. And while there is nothing binding people who have experienced loss together, there is an opportunity extended to all of us to appreciate and respect life’s magnificence.

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10 Reasons to Volunteer: A Complete How-to


My First Volunteer Foray

My mother always volunteered. In a surreptitious move that I’ll have to remember for my own progeny, she brought me along. I watched her read to children in our city’s version of the projects. We volunteered together at a women’s shelter. Later she helped write resumes at my hometown’s Community Development Center, an organization strikingly similar to the one I worked with in D.C. called Streetwise Partners.

But she didn’t limit her time just to organizations. Her giving nature extended to her friends, family, and neighbors. If someone was sick, she made them soup. If someone was sad, she offered to cheer him or her up. Without even realizing it, I picked up on her willingness to give and it has proven to be a gift.  It exposes me to people I would not ordinarily meet and provides me with a worldview that includes a broader horizon. And I find comfort in the ability to give to others.

Offering a Helping Hand

Recently, I started volunteering at Heywood Hospital in Gardner, Mass. The team of mostly 70-plus ladies welcomed me into their family immediately. Before I knew it I received invitations for tea and luncheons. Just last week I found myself emphatically insisting I help my new friends, Bev and Ellie, shop for our holiday fair basket.

They thanked me for my “gumption” but I enjoyed it just as much as they did. They helped me realize that some of the things that bothered me about my mother are also some of the things I miss most. Nosy questions: “Do you have a boyfriend? What does he do? Are you going to move?” Then the endless hemming and hawing over price tags on superfluous holiday items like stuffed snowmen. “$6.99?!!” I enjoyed every moment with my surrogate family.

Being Responsible

Volunteering is one of the things that helps me cope with the loss of my mother the most. It allows me to turn my negative energy into inspiration for positive contribution. I encourage EVERYONE to volunteer. We share the burden of all social issues and it is our responsibility to contribute and respect the space we cohabitate.

10 Reasons to Volunteer

Lend a hand and sign up to volunteer today!

Lend a hand and sign up to volunteer today!

1. Meet new people.
2. Teach others.
3. Have fun.
4. Tackle a new challenge.
5. Develop new skills.
6. Inspire others. Be inspired.
7. Raise your awareness.
8. Build a strong community.
9. Help others reach their potential.
10. Make the world a better place.

How to Find Volunteering Opportunities

1. President Obama encourages all Americans to participate in our country’s recovery and renewal at Serve.gov, a site to help you find opportunities in your area

2. HandsOn Network is the largest volunteer network in the nation and includes more than 250 HandsOn Action Centers in 16 countries. Visit their site to find a project near you. (I also love their tweets! @handsonnetwork.)

3. For the kids: Generation On is a newly-created youth service organization that inspires, equips and mobilizes young people to take action and change the world.

4. Volunteer Match, a recruiting tool for more than 75,000 nonprofit organizations, is another great site to search for local projects.

5. Check with your hometown homepage. Generally there is a link to local events where help is needed!

6. Craigslist posts volunteer opportunities too!

If you volunteer, please tell us about your organization and contribution!

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Filed under giving thanks, grief, mother, nutrition, parent, positive tradition, Volunteer