I’m behind.More than a week behind.So behind that this post relates to last week’s subject, chosen by Froggie, who simply stated:Life
begins at the end of your comfort zone.
My first thought when I read Froggie’s topic
was:Man, I sure hope she is right.After all, my family and I are about to embark on a major
adventure, one that already has left us teetering at the edge of our individual
and collective comfort zones.For
us, when we move, many, many things will change.Is it a beginning?Of
sorts, of course.But it is also
an ending.Truly, in my opinion,
my life is not really beginning – it is merely going on.
I could say much, much more about our upcoming
move and the way in which my personal comfort zone has been – and will continue
to be – stretched and pushed and shaken to its very core.But Froggie’s subject reminded me of
something else, an experience I had the week I was supposed to be writing this
I’ve mentioned that I volunteer as a Patient
Care Volunteer for a local hospice.Usually, I see certain patients each week, a group of women I call “my
ladies.”But last week, my
Volunteer Coordinator called and asked me to see a new patient, someone I’d
never met, as he’d turned down the offer of volunteer visits.The patient had become agitated, which
in the hospice world often indicates pain.My coordinator needed me to see him that day as he needed
almost constant support, and our wonderful hospice nurse, Mary, had already
spent most of the morning with him.
I headed over to the facility and met my new
(and first) male patient:let’s
call him Benny.Benny was, indeed,
agitated.He was also pale and not
particularly alert.Mary was with
him, attempting to make him comfortable.In doing so, Mary determined Benny needed a catheter, and she set to
putting one in before she left.Now,
usually I leave the room when the nurses do anything medical with the patients,
not necessarily out of avoidance, but more out of respect for privacy.But Benny’s agitation led Mary to ask
me to stay in the room in case she and the aide needed help calming him
down.So I stayed.I watched.I pushed my comfort zone.
I stayed with Benny for a few hours that
day.He’d rest for awhile, and I’d
read or watch him or look at the dozens of pictures of him and his family that
filled the room.I’d think about
what he was like in health, as I’d only known him in illness.And when he’d stir and push at his bedding,
I’d reach under and hold his wrist until he settled back down.I did this for hours, happy when the
warmth from my hand calmed him to sleep.Eventually, the meds carefully administered by Mary kicked in, and I
left.As I waited for the
elevator, I thought of what Mary had said before she left, words I knew to be
true:“He will either get better,
or he will decline.”I didn’t hope
for either; I only hoped for peace.
I returned the next day, and Benny was awake and
alert and sitting in the facility’s common area.He was also agitated and hell bent on pulling out his
catheter.And so I spent the next
several hours with Benny, talking, ignoring him when he yelled at me out of
discomfort and frustration, trying to get him to eat some soup or drink some
ginger ale, trying to stop him from ripping out his catheter.I reassured Benny that the catheter
would come out soon.He calmed
some but still seemed skeptical.I
sat with him until the nurses did remove the catheter, and when I checked in on
him, he was sleeping.I went home,
promising the nurses I’d return in a day or two.
I took the next day off from hospice, focusing
instead on moving and my family.I
had an appointment early Friday morning and planned to head straight to see
Benny after.But before I could
get there, Mary texted.Benny had
passed that morning.She knew I’d
planned on seeing him, and she told me I could go over if I needed some closure.His daughter was with him, and the
hospice social worker, too.They
didn’t really need me, not in the way they had just the day before, and so the
decision was up to me:did I want
to see Benny in death?Could I
My time with Benny had certainly pushed my
comfort zone.I’ve been lucky;
with the exception of one, all of my hospice patients have been fairly calm,
and I haven’t had to do much more than keep them company, or perhaps feed them
a meal or two.Easy peasy.And I’d even been with a patient when
she’d passed, standing behind her son as he held her hand, telling her it was
okay to go.I watched as she
passed, saw everything the hospice had trained me to see.But this was different.Benny was already gone.I’d be making a trip solely to say
I thought of this as I pulled on my hospice lanyard
and got in my car and drove the mile to Benny.I walked in, signed in, buzzed into the ward.I greeted a nurse, who whispered to me
that Benny had passed.“I know,” I
said.“I came to see him.”Just then, the social worker spotted
me.She brought me down to the rec
room to meet Benny’s daughter.She
introduced me, and I asked his daughter if she minded if I went in to say
goodbye to her father.Of course,
she didn’t.I walked to
Benny’s room, the door now closed. Standing outside, I asked myself, “Can you do this?Do you want to do this?” And I answered, “Only one way to find out.”
And I went in, and I said goodbye to Benny.
When I finished, I sat with his daughter,
helping keep her company until the funeral home came for her dad.Soon we were joined by the social
worker, and by Mary, herself a bit distraught.I stayed with these women for the next forty-five minutes or
so, telling stories, talking, supporting each other.
That day, I pushed myself well beyond my “comfort
zone.”I purposely put myself into
an emotionally difficult situation.I did it because it felt like the right thing to do.And I did it because, somewhere inside of
me, I knew it would make me a better hospice volunteer – and maybe even a
In this way, I suppose I do believe that life
begins at the end of our comfort zone.I ended that Friday a slightly different person than I was when I’d
begun the day.I touched other
people, and I allowed them to touch me, too.I grew closer to my hospice team members, and I grew ever so
slightly in my self-confidence.Maybe my life didn’t really “begin,” but my life certainly grew, all in
light of another’s death.
I have friends who live in the house in which
they grew up, friends who’ve had the same jobs their entire lives, friends who
eat the same foods and hang out with the same people and who never really take
many risks.Froggie’s subject begs
the question:are those people
really living?I believe they
are.Some people find that soft
spot in their comfort zones and there they remain:healthy, happy, content.
I am not that person.
And so I will push my personal boundaries, be
they geographical or emotional.
And when I find myself getting a little too comfortable, almost
complacent, I will shake things up.
And if in doing so, I learn something about myself or, better yet, about
someone else, I will consider myself lucky. I will consider myself truly alive.