It has been 2 years now since I started volunteering in the capacity of sitting Vigil during nighttime hours for terminally ill patients with Hospice. These are patients who, under palliative care, have come to the end of their life journey. I serve most patients in care facilities such as Hospice House, Cottonwoods, Millcreek and others, but some are at home as well.
I often will get a phone call in the early evening or morning asking me to sit with people in their final hours of life from 2am to 6am. I count it a privilege to be part of Hospice, an organization that answers the need - to be a support for the dying and their families. I have been asked on a number of occasions, "Why I would do Vigil work and travel in the middle of the night through all sorts of weather to sit with someone who is dying?" My answer: I say this from my heart, "I count it a privilege to be part of the life of the dying person even for just a few hours so they are not alone when they pass on."
Often I sit and talk to them even when they are in a coma. I will often caress their arm or hold their hand and speak softly to them. It has been my experience that they are able to hear me even when they cannot respond. I was with one lady who, just minutes before she passed on, opened her eyes. She of course did not recognize me. But I spoke to her and told her that it was ok for her to go. I assured her that angels where waiting for her to take her to a beautiful place of peace and rest for her to enjoy for eternity. She smiled ever so slightly and past on peacefully.
I believe that dying has a spiritual element connected to it no matter what one’s belief system is. On another occasion I was asked to provide one-on-one support for a man my own age that had cancer. When I was introduced to him I felt that this could turn into a long and close friendship. We talked cars and car engines. We talked sports, and ended up with making a golf tee time at a local golf course. This all took place on a Friday morning and the golf game was to be played the next Tuesday.
Saturday evening, I received a phone call from his wife telling me he had been recommitted to the hospital for medical treatment. According to the doctor this could take several days. On Monday afternoon she called me again and told me that he had been transferred to Cottonwoods Douglas Fir Hospice Unit. This came as a shock to me! I told her that if there is anything I could do for her, to please do not hesitate to call me. She told me then that the family from out-of-town would be arriving the next morning. She also indicated that she had very little rest and was exhausted from lack of sleep. I offered to sit with him that night so she could go home and get some rest and sleep. She told me she would call, and did. That Monday evening I sat with my new-found friend and client from 8pm to 4am the next morning. He rested peacefully and slept throughout the night. His son came in at 4am and I went home.
That evening I received the call that he had passed on. I was surprised how fast these events had unfolded but my comfort in all of this was that I was able to touch the lives of everyone involved, even though it was for such a brief time. The importance for me was that I was able to make a difference in people’s lives by being able to help in a small way - giving of my time. I cannot express my gratitude adequately in words how great a privilege it was to have been a part of this man’s life and a comfort to his family.
I thank the people who took the time to train and equip me to be able to do this rewarding work as a Hospice volunteer.
Paul Gysen - Hospice Volunteer