I showed up on the final day of hospice volunteer training and took the same seat I'd occupied on all the other days I'd attended - front row, inside aisle. Our facilitator mentioned the small pad of blue paper that had been left for each of us, and asked that we set it aside for an exercise later in the day.
I picked up the little blue pad of paper and flipped through it with my fingertips. An exercise that included little slips of paper? I just might love this, I thought.
Toward the end of the day, we were instructed to tear the blue pad of paper apart and spread the pieces out in front of us so we could see each one. There were 20 of them, and I methodically laid them out - five across and four rows down.
We were given instructions on what to write on the pieces of paper. First we were to write five values that were important to us. Then, five hobbies we enjoy. Then, five possessions we held dear. And finally, five people (living) who are special to us.
"Uh-oh," I realized. "Just because it's paper doesn't mean it will be fun..."
Once everything was written down, our facilitator began to read a story. The point of the exercise was to allow us to appreciate what hospice patients go through, and he began to read...
It began with something like, "You're drying off from your shower and find a lump you've never noticed before........ You make a doctor's appointment......... The lump is larger by the time you see the doctor..........."
And then he said, "Take one of the slips of paper in front of you and crumple it up."
Gulp. I didn't like where this was going.
The story line continued with tests run, diagnosis given, treatment administered and hospitalizations. With each stage came instructions to "take three slips of paper and crumple them up" or "take two slips of paper..." until we were down to our final five pieces. The five slips of paper remaining in front of me were my people: Doug, Carrie, and my three siblings.
Everything had been stripped away - my hobbies, possessions, and even the values I held dear no longer mattered. I sat there, staring down at the last five slips of paper with the names of my people, my own handwriting barely legible through my tears. As he read through the final paragraph I prepared myself, but nothing could have prepared me for him to walk by, reach out and grab one of my slips of paper without my permission. My sister Valerie. Her name was gone in a flash. Not everything is within our control.
I'd been so proud of myself for having maintained a strong demeanor through the course of the hospice volunteer training. In that moment I felt so vulnerable, so raw and so stunned. We had to remove two more pieces of paper, and in the end I was left with my loves, Doug and Carrie.
There wasn't a dry eye in the room, and for what seemed like forever there was just silence. We each had a deeper understanding, and I gained a sense of renewed commitment for being a hospice volunteer. When everything is stripped away and we're at the end of this journey, having a hand to hold onto will be all that matters. And if a loved one can't be there to hold a hand during someone's final hours, I will be honored for them to hold mine.
Yes. That's what I'm going to do.