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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Got to Begin Again

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

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 blog post.

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 handle that?

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 goodbye.

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 better person.

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.  


  1. GREAT post! i got misty-eyed reading it. i'm sure benny's family appreciated everything you did for him in his last days. keep pushing that boundary.
    and no worries on the delay with posts. you'll catch up again when life settles down a bit.

    1. Thanks, Melissa -- both for your sweet comment and for your understanding about me being crazy behind with posts.