We’re pleased to share Cassandra’s story as part of National Hospice and Palliative Care Week. Cassandra is a Hospice volunteer who has been with us for over two years. Below, she highlights her experience, emotions, and duties – in her own words:
I remember my first visit with my client. I was so nervous I almost forgot to take off my shoes! Thankfully, my case worker Charlotte rescued me with her trusty disposable shoe protectors.
I was a recent graduate at the time and had next to no experience working with seniors, let alone a senior with a life-limiting illness. But it worked itself out. My client and I discovered a mutual love for antique furniture. We bonded over our tendency to hoard things just for their sentimental value. Before I knew it, we had scheduled my next visit, and from then on, I was visiting every week.
My client is an immigrant who courageously uprooted her life in Jamaica to come to Canada with her four (now five) kids, husband, and mother-in-law. She loves kiwis and Vector cereal. She has short-term memory loss, and although she is prone to repeat herself, I never get tired of hearing her stories. Her smile is the one thing I look forward to every visit. Lately, due to the pandemic, I have had to settle for hearing the smile in her voice as we chat by phone.
She is a wealth of knowledge, and I have learned so much from her. The most important lesson she’s taught me is that life is long, but also incredibly short. Perspective is everything, and death has this weird tendency of putting everything into perspective.
Working as a hospice volunteer isn’t always easy. It is frustrating for a client to lose skills they once possessed, and it is devastating for family members to watch this process unfold, especially to someone they have depended on since birth. Emotions can run high. But it’s important to find the silver lining. And I think that’s a big part of my job: to find the silver lining, especially in places where they seem impossible to find.
That said, the biggest challenge for me is accepting that, on some days, there is no silver lining. And on those particular days, my client and I will frown together, and say “yeah, that sucks.” But I think being able to share even an unhappy experience with someone is a blessing. It reminds people they are not alone. And there is a great deal of power in that.
Hospice volunteering is not only endlessly rewarding, but it has changed my life in more ways than I could ever imagine. Because of my Hospice volunteering experience, I discovered my future career path, and I am now wait-listed for the Masters of Social Work program at the University of Toronto.
If I could give new volunteers one piece of advice, I would tell them to try everything. Because who knows – you might just end up finding your passion, like I did!
Cassandra is a Circle of Care hospice volunteer who provides support for clients with a terminal or life-limiting illness. Hospice volunteers are a specialized group of volunteers who offer many services that include companionship, emotional support and practical assistance to our clients and short-term relief to client families and caregivers. Hospice volunteers are specially trained (mandatory 30 hour training) and are asked to commit to 2-4 hours per week. Training is free and is offered three times a year: winter, spring and fall. While we are currently unable to accept new Hospice volunteers at the moment due to the pandemic, we ask that you consider becoming a Hospice volunteer in the future.