An Unimaginable Experience: Saying ‘Goodbye’ in a Hospice
_As a Hospice of the Chesapeake Vigil Volunteer, Dick Wheeler has received additional training and serves patients in the process of actively dying. In the following, he shares his experience in learning just how unimaginable saying goodbye can be._
I have been a patient care volunteer since 2006 and was recently present at the death of a 35-year-old mother of five who had been under our care.
When I arrived for my evening shift, I went to the patient’s room and introduced myself to everyone surrounding her bedside. I let them know that I didn’t want to disturb their privacy and would be nearby, ready to help. Sadly the patient died soon after.
There was an immediate initial emotional outpouring. Her brother was first to exit the room, crying and unable to find comfort anywhere. He sank into a nearby chair, attempting to curl into a fetal position. Others then emerged quietly crying, walking with no apparent direction or course of action in mind. Many others simply hugged in silent understanding. Most striking was the 8-year-old daughter, who ran from the room, hugging a pillow. She was sobbing uncontrollably, repositioning herself from chair to chair in a nearby room.
During all of the commotion and emotion, the young husband seemed unaffected by what had transpired and how his future had just been so dramatically altered.
It wasn’t long before the family dynamics changed to that of support roles. Small groups of family and friends began to make plans. The group also consoled — lending compassion and strength to those needing it most, especially the daughter and her father, who were in apparent shock.
As for myself, I observed all of this not wanting to intrude on their grief. I was taken back when someone approached me, taking my hand and telling me how thankful they were for the support that our organization and its volunteers had given during such a difficult time.
It’s fascinating to note that despite knowing the probable outcome, how despondent the family was when the actual death occurred. Perhaps no one can really ever be totally prepared. I am only grateful that in some small way I was able to help support someone else in their time of need.
As for the father and children left behind, I know that his family will be there for him as will Hospice of the Chesapeake.