Reflections on Hospice Volunteering

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During the last days of my husband’s life, God provided for us the blessing of Midwest Care Hospice Center. I call it a blessing because it was beyond expectations; I say God provided for us because their services and care were generously extended to our family. My husband went to heaven with a beatific smile; his face will remain in my heart forever. Needless to say, the meaning and center of my life changed suddenly. After 42 years of marriage, a life of love, togetherness, and sometimes struggles, life became directionless and without dialogue…

But deep down inside of me, a little fire started to rekindle: a fire in search of meaning, in search of service, and mostly, in special expression of gratitude. Yes, gratitude to that magnificent God, always present, always there, always caring. “Do not be afraid; I am with you always, until the end of time” was resonating in my heart constantly in the midst of the fears, loneliness, and hard decisions. I wanted and needed to respond in total gratitude. That became the new motto of my life and I started searching for ways to make my life meaningful again.

Since early years, I have felt close to the spirituality of the Jesuits and many Jesuit friends have been at our table. Looking for help, a Jesuit friend suggested that I connect with the IVC. In April, 2012 I applied and the process started.  At the same time, I established a closer connection with the Midwest Care Hospice Center and also benefitted from their grieving services for several months.  When the time came to find an IVC ministry, I knew the MCHC was the right place for me.

At Midwest Hospice, I find myself in a challenging interdenominational organization where professionals and recipients come from a variety of different faiths, or in some cases, no faith.  And indeed it has been a challenge: a nurturing and revitalizing experience and often, a humbling opportunity with many lessons to integrate on my journey.

With the opening of the new Hospice Pavilion in Glenview, I have been serving as the First Floor Receptionist which I call the Ministry of First Impressions. I don’t mean this title to be glamorous, but a reminding bell of my ministry. When entering the hospice facility, many visitors become overwhelmed by confusion, pain, mistrust, and worries. They are carrying the heavy burden of the unknown for their loved one and their care as well as for their own decisions in the coming uncertain future.  Tears, anger, distant indifference, hard breathing, and expressions of stifled emotion are common. And every time I look into those faces and read the pain in their eyes, I know that a simple greeting, a comment, a hug, a phrase of reassurance and acceptance, is the essence of my ministry… deep down I ask the Lord to use my heart, my mind, and my actions to serve Him by touching those souls in pain with His Love. Other times, after a visit to the family member and upon leaving, there is another opportunity to reengage, to give a hug, to offer a smile, to reassure them of my prayers….

One day, while at my post, I received the special unexpected visit of the Eucharist. On a regular basis, volunteer Eucharistic Ministers come to visit and give communion to the Catholic patients. I was deeply moved when one day a woman offered the Eucharist to me at the front desk. I realized that the Lord was coming to visit me in that quiet distant place; it was a special moment for me that has continued to revitalize my ministry.

The volunteers and the professional staff at Midwest Hospice present living examples of dedication and unselfish giving. I have seen some of them early in the morning, really exhausted and sometimes in tears, after assisting a patient at the last precious moments of life. Within only a few days of arriving, the hospice patients truly become part of the family and deep relationships grow in a dimension that seems beyond the barriers of time. Every volunteer, staff member and patient becomes part of the total Hospice mission. In my simple responsibility to control and supervise the garage door (which welcomes new patients and offers a dignified “goodbye” to those departing), I see the importance of my ministry because we are all contributing to a common blessed cause.

Even the architecture has been designed to create a soothing atmosphere of reverence and peace. In the front of the building, the Healing Garden has little creeks, flowers, and bushes to surround patients and visitors with a sensitive expression of life, tenderness and peace. Not far from the front desk where I sit is a beautiful chapel and meditation room that can be used by any individual or group for reflection, prayers or services.  There is a wide open window looking to the healing garden and ending on the horizon with a marsh where cranes, ducks and other birds come to rest. In the background one can see the profile of the majestic towers of The Divine Word Missionaries at Techny. I glance at it from my desk and a silent but powerful connection with The Lord takes place.  One cannot ask for more blessings.  Here again, I am grateful, Oh Lord. St. Ignatius said that “it is important to see God in all little things.” In this ministry, all little things become a grand expression of the Lord’s Presence for His little creatures.

 

Lucia P. Hall is an Ignatian Volunteer in Chicago, where she serves at the Midwest Care Hospice Center.  She is a retired Clinical Psychologist  and offers workshops on Psychology and Spirituality to interested groups.  She enjoys writing, traveling and contact with nature.

5 Responses to “Reflections on Hospice Volunteering”

  1. Liz McMahon

    Thank you Lucia, your reflection touched me in a special way today, the first anniversary of my mother’s death. We had the gift of hospice during the end of Mom’s final journey with Alzheimer’s and this time with her and our family is one I will always treasure. God was everywhere, all the time, and ever benevolent. Hospice is a grace-filled world from my three different family experiences the past four years.

    Your words meant a lot! Your sharing is greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  2. Heather Preimesberger

    Dear Lucia, words brought back the wonderful memories I have of my dear husband who my family lost seven years ago. Your IVC assignment is a blessings for all you serve. May our Lord continue to bless you as you seve so many in need.

    Reply
  3. Camille

    Hi Lucia,
    I am always amazed that in the end it is the hug, the smile of the other that we remember not their words. I am conviced that in all these gestures both the recipient and the giver experience the face of Christ. I am so pleased that you can give back what you recieved.

    Reply
  4. Pat Connelly

    Lucia, Your reflection of the dear ones in Hospice is quite similar to the environment that a
    group from my Church visit and take the Eucharist every Monday. Some of the residents
    are short term for therapy, others are in Assisted Living. My “special” friends are there to the end. Suzanne, not able to move with MS for12+yrs. When asked how are things going? replies with a glorious smile, “Wonderful”. A year ago Vince declined the Eucharist, Now he is waiting for THE PRESENCE. Each fo the Dear individuals, brings so much joy to my life.
    Yes, your time at hsopice is precious!

    Reply
  5. Katherine Harig

    Lucia,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us. Your presence is very necessary to so many families. You are such a perfect person for that first impression!

    Reply

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