Caroline the Human: How do I control my emotions while helping those in need?

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

Howl Caroline,

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.

21 thoughts on “Caroline the Human: How do I control my emotions while helping those in need?

  1. This is such wonderful advice. My momma worked with the elderly and she Absolutly loved it. There were days she was so overwhelmed that all she could do was come home soak in the tub and pray. This is how she ecplained it to me as I would lie on the floor at the steps of the tub. It is a lifestyle a lot of elderly folks have no choice but to live. Sometimes they don’t even have children or grandchildren. It’s just them. It’s just sad.(more than sad) But things are not always fair in this old world. That’s where she chose to come in.
    It is awfully hard when a patient is crying from pain and you cannot give them anything for another hour. Or say when they can’t remember things, and it’s up to you to keep them calm. These folks need us. There is not a breathing thing on this earth who doesn’t desire love. Love comes in many forms and fashions. For some it’s huge, for others it’s a simple smile, and hello. But it’s love. It is rewarding in a sense, but mostly it’s a stand. A stand for what you believe in. A stand for how you would want your momma or dad, even you yourself to be treated if found in that situation. my momma had her neck and back broke trying to help a very scared combative patient transfer from bed to gurney. Her spine was pretty screwed shattering 6 vertebrae from top to bottom. All because one little nurses aid let go and walked away saying she didn’t get paid for that.
    Please… Rescue a heart, take in a pet. They love puppies and kittens. And the satisfaction will be the tickle in your heart just seeing the people brighten up and get almost childlike over a precious little animal. They love older animals as well. It’s a “cause” my momma is passionate about. So volunteer… Asked to bring your pet in. Oh the JOY. Thank you for listening, or reading my little rant here. — have yourselves a fabulous day! – BOO

  2. It can take a long time not to become emotional. Seeing the elderly like this reminds us of our mortality. I worked with the homeless for years, even going into their encampments. It was some time before I could see a homeless person on the street and not choke up – and if they has a dog with them . . . well that was even harder.
    Get a tissue if you watch this . . .

  3. Mom brings me to the VA home to help make people happy. Sometimes our friends are too sick to be happy, so we sit with them for a few minutes to let them know we’re there. Mom says we need to know our limitations. We can’t make everybody happy, but if we can be there and bring a smile or break up some hours of lonliness for a few minutes, that’s a few minutes that wouldn’t have happened without us. Hang in there, and look at the small picture rather than the big picture.

    Love and licks,

  4. Caroline is a wonderful, caring person that gives her time and herself selflessly. To be invited to share happy and sad times with people is a honor and a gift. To help others without seeking reward is the purest reward. Tall person says that to listen is one of the greatest gifts that we can share with someone.

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