My path to becoming a hospice volunteer is unusual in that the first step was taken by my wife who checked out the Marshak Family Hospice CareCenter in Glenview, assuming I was going to need it.
I’d been experiencing dizzy spells that on a few occasions toppled me to the floor. Being a committed idiot, I didn’t tell anybody about this until one morning, after nearly falling down, the thought occurred that this might not be normal and that an emergency room visit just might be appropriate.
If you knew today would be the last day of your life, how would you live it?
Many might imagine themselves emptying their bank accounts, splurging on an over-the-top dinner and night of frivolity in a last grasp at indulgence. Others possibly envision doing something taboo because they wouldn’t be around to suffer the consequences. Many see themselves scrambling to check off items on their “bucket lists.”
I think these are fantasies. Daydreams. In fact, I believe most of us actually would spend our final 24 hours with just a little bit more of what we already have. A little more love. A little more time spent with friends. A little more family. I don’t think we would change much. We probably would call everyone we cared about and tell them, “I love you.”
Hospice care offers us this closure.
Many people know the beauty of the words drawn from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3. This ancient poem (in the 1611 King James Bible) begins, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” And then, the second verse continues, “A time to be born, and a time to die.”
The writer is correct, every one born will, someday, die. That we will die is not unexpected, but it is a moment not easily faced. It is not a topic we lift up in polite company. We sense its finality in our souls and are often ill-equipped to face it. Death can feel like the ultimate thief, the ultimate enemy and so we convince ourselves that it is far away and refuse to acknowledge it is a reality for all who ever draw breath.
This year's Midwest CareCenter gala honoring Dr. Dennis Murphy was a huge success, matched only by the equally monumental efforts of many volunteers. I know this because for the second year in a row, I have chaired this event with Pam Waud. Early on a Renaissance theme was selected, and it didn't take long for the incredibly creative members of our committee to start working their magic. Banners were flowing, suits of armor were arriving, and madrigal singers and actors in costume were booked.
This hospice, this wonderful, caring, abiding presence in all our days, humbled me in 1979. It continues to do so, even as I express my gratitude to it as a superb caring entity, which is superbly represented by each and every one, a caregiver, directly and indirectly.
In 1979, Paul Wise, a new patient to me, informed me in his initial visit that he had recently lost his wife. Later, after his physical examination, he asked if I knew the name Cicely Saunders. My first thought was, "His wife has just died and already he wants me to know of his new lady friend." But fortunately a second thought came in, Isn't she an English woman? Something about "Hospice" or some such? Care at home at the end of life?
Since my husband died, I have been knitting and crocheting healing shawls and baby blankets for a charity group associated with the University of Chicago. U of C is where my husband underwent his cancer treatment prior to entering hospice care with Midwest CareCenter. But the leader of our group is nearing retirement and we are less active, so I've decided to focus my skills on another charity group – Knit Wits at Midwest CareCenter. The group creates comfort items like blankets for patients throughout the organization.
People become hospice volunteers for different reasons. Maybe they have had a personal experience with hospice when a loved one needed care. Maybe they just want to give back. Generally when people inquire about becoming a hospice volunteer, it is because they want to contribute something of themselves to others, to contribute to a cause they believe in, and to help other people.
My name is Mary Spiewak and I've been a patient care volunteer for five years. Both of my parents were hospice patients in a wonderful program in northern Minnesota. The support my family received left a lasting impression on me. Before my mom passed, I told her that some day I would be a hospice volunteer, to try to pay back what hospice had given to all of us.