Dear Paws to Talk,
Recently, I decided to volunteer one day a week at my town’s nursing home. I have a friend who works there and she mentioned that they needed help so I agreed to pitch in. Mainly, the home needs people like me to keep its residents company. Card games, bingo and conversation are the primary activities on the agenda.
Last week, I started volunteering. As I walked in the door, I felt a sense of satisfaction that I was there to help. I figured that I would have a good day bringing my cheery attitude to people who could use some sunshine in their lives.
A couple of hours into my volunteer work, I was overwhelmed by the situation. I saw a woman lying lifelessly in bed surrounded by her family who were there as she took her last breaths.
I observed and offered my support to the family who regaled me with stories about what a vibrant woman she had been. Having just witnessed a mother, wife and grandparent leave the world, I excused myself in order to have a good cry in the bathroom.
Once I collected my emotions, I focused my energies on a woman named Mildred whose family and friends rarely came to see her. I sat and talked to Mildred for a while. She was a delightful presence as she cracked jokes and said smart things. I couldn’t understand why no one ever came to see her.
My first day was draining to say the least. I went home and cried for a while. How do I continue to help without becoming so emotional?
-Caroline the Human
To begin with, we think it is incredibly honorable that you are giving your time to volunteer. Our world needs more humans like you!
We’re sorry you had such a rough day. Maybe you need us to accompany you to your next volunteer day? We know how to make everyone smile. Just remember, we charge two treats per hour for our services. This fee may be waived in exchange for four hugs per hour.
Clearly, this job is much more difficult than you envisioned. This is something you need to accept. If you know this going into your volunteer time then you will be more prepared when you see upsetting things.
However, all species can only handle so much sadness before needing to cry or let it out. Don’t be so hard on yourself for being emotional. It is natural. If you didn’t have any reaction then we would suggest that you volunteer somewhere else. Someone like you who connects to the gravity of the situation is probably just what these older humans need.
While it sounds like you may witness more life-changing moments such as the death of a resident, try to focus your energy on those you can help. For instance, Mildred needs you to listen to her jokes and laugh. There are probably many other residents like her who will appreciate your visits.
Don’t get drawn into the despair that may surround you. Make a choice to show these humans the sun shining in all its glory.
Bella and DiDi
© Margot Ahlquist and Paws to Talk, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Margot Ahlquist and Paws to Talk with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.