My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as HOSPICE Volunteer

My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as Hospice Volunteer

For several years, I worked as a volunteer for Hospice, also known as Palliative Care in some regions. I want to tell you some of my personal experiences of sitting with the dying.

Initially I did respite care but eventually I did what was called “Vigil”, which in this case meant that I would be My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as Hospice Volunteercalled in to sit with someone who was dying and didn’t want to die alone, or I was there because a family member didn’t want to experience their loved one’s dying by themselves.  There were only 7 of us, out of 200 volunteers, who were willing to do Vigil, so we were called in on a fairly regular basis.

It certainly was a learning experience.  Many people have asked me why I would want to go and sit Vigil with a dying person, and I have asked myself that very question many times, trying to analyze myself.  It was many things for me – curiosity, compassion, experience, and to overcome my own fear of dying.

The experience was many things too. To say I “enjoyed” being there for someone’s last breath, might sound like an odd word to use.  It’s not that I enjoyed it, but I didn’t dread it either.  There was a certain satisfaction knowing that my being there was a comfort to them.  My goal was to comfort them and keep them relaxed and peaceful – unafraid – to the end.

My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as Hospice Volunteer

Of course, it didn’t always go that way.  It was not always peaceful.  On a number of occasions, a client would die with much fear or anger and that is a difficult thing to witness.  It always shook me up.  Or to have a family member that is pleading the loved one not to go, not to leave them was extremely sad.

One client of mine, an elderly woman in a nursing home, had no one – no one at all – and she was afraid.  I sat with her for the last 12 hours of her life.  During that time she was in and out of consciousness, but when she was awake she would claw at the wall, as if she was trying to tear herself out.  It was really bad.  During one coherent moment, she told me that this was payback (her terrible pain of cancer) because she had been a bad mother to her children. That was magnified one hundred fold by the fact that her children hadn’t come to see her as she lay dying and she hadn’t spoken to them for years.

My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as Hospice Volunteer Perhaps one of the saddest and most touching experiences was a young man who was only in his early 30s and he was dying of AIDS.  I was there primarily for the family who wanted to know how things were expected to happen at the end.  I’ll tell you, you couldn’t find much prouder parents as this couple was of their son.  Someone had written nasty things in the local newspaper about gays, citing Biblical scripture.  The son had written a letter back to the Editor and the father read that letter to me.  It was very well written and so heart-felt.  His father cried as he read it to me, his heart broken for the anguish his son had gone through. A person should never have to feel such anguish.

This young man’s sister was his primary care-giver.  She must have been around the same age as him, and it must have been very difficult for her, but I could tell that she didn’t mind caring for her brother.  She did everything for him. So sweet. Such a loving and accepting family.

It helped the family a lot, it seems to learn about the dying process, what to look for, what was going to happen next, things like that.  Often times, they were calmed just by knowing these things, and it was almost always bittersweet.

My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as Hospice Volunteer

One of my favorite clients was an elderly man who had been a minister and missionary in South America for 30 years.  He was blind now and he wanted someone to come in and read to him.  His wife was still alive but not well herself and was often in bed in another room when I visited.  It turned out that this couple had written a book about their years as missionaries, and I ended up reading the whole book to my client, with his wife sitting in to listen too, on occasion.  He died exactly one week after I finished reading the book.  His wife died exactly one week after he passed.  She’d been waiting all along.

I considered it pure privilege to be given the opportunity to be there within all these people’s lives and to experience their unique and private moments with them.  I was often privy to their inner thoughts, their fears about dying, their regrets about their lives.

My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as Hospice Volunteer

My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as Hospice Volunteer

You know, when I first started writing this article, my goal was to compile a list of regrets that I most often heard from the dying.  Some were surprising, most were not, but all were thought-provoking.  However, as I started to tell my story, my fingers took on a life of their own and went in a slightly different direction. It’s interesting how that happens sometimes, and makes me think that perhaps there is a reason for that, and there are more things to this topic that I can relate to you the future postings.

I hope you will stay tuned for that.  Next post, I will compile that list of regrets that I most commonly heard.

My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as Hospice Volunteer

Meanwhile, live well and peaceful.


I hope you have enjoyed “My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as Hospice Volunteer

QUESTION:  Do you have an experiences or story that you would like to share?  Please leave it in the comments, or contact me if you would like to write an article for my blog.

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16 thoughts on “My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as HOSPICE Volunteer”

  1. I am beginning vigil service training next week with the same organization that took care of my grandmother up until she passed from Alzheimer’s in the summer of 2017. I found this very helpful, especially when you were talking about why you wanted to do it, because I find myself struggling to explain to people why I would want to do this. Death just does not scare me, and I do receive a sense of fulfillment when I know I helped comfort someone, whether that be in their final hours or any time during their life.
    This was a good read, and you seem like you have a beautiful soul

  2. Hadn’t known this about you Jeannie. Not that I’m surprised. Very moving. A very necessary perspective as we get older. Us 60, what? LOve you. Poly

  3. Jeanne,

    Your story is wonderful. It is so rich with meaning and emotion.

    It made me think of when my mother died about 20 years ago. She was in a nursing home and we got a call that she was dying. The whole family arranged to visit her at 11 am the next morning. She knew we were coming. I was the first to arrive. She had died at 10:30 am. I feel she wanted to die alone. Of course I will never know if this is so, but it always made me wonder.

    Thanks so much for your post.

  4. What a great story Jeanne! It takes a strong person to do what you’ve done sitting Vigil with people in their last moments of life. Not sure I could do that. The feeling I felt reading your story was a feeling of helplessness. I would want to help them, but would know that I couldn’t. But then again, just being there is a help, so I guess it’s all about perspective. Either way I think that’s pretty cool what you’ve done. You’re a special person. Thank you!

  5. Wow. I have worked in hospitals and in a senior care home, and I had to leave those jobs because the sadness was too much for me to witness. I hated coming in and finding out someone I had just had a conversation with the day before had passed away.

    It takes a lot of inner strength to be able to sit with someone who is dying and comfort them – no matter how they are reacting to the situation.

  6. Hi Jeanne. What a wonderful, moving and uplifting post. I really admire you for the work you do. I have thought about volunteering to sit with terminally ill people before and now you have inspired me to do something about it. Thank you for sharing your story. Blessings, Andrea

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. You will truly be blessed for what you do. I was one of several people there when my mother in law passed and I don’t think I could do this regulary. Thank you for being there for so many that do not have family able to be with them.

  8. Hi Jeanne,

    Thanks so much for sharing with us.

    I live my life to have no regrets, to be in the moment and to pack rich experiences into my years.

    I can only imagine how it has impacted you; being able to see both positive and negative experiences, and how to apply them to your life.

    I only recently had my first experience with a sentient being passing on and it was a 2 week old puppy.

    I was heartbroken; no consciousness, no choices, so I felt bad at first then I realized that the puppy aligned himself with us so he need not die suffering, on the streets. He knew love in his short life, and I appreciated that we could offer it to him.

  9. Thats is a great thing you do for the elderly. I bet the families appreciate you being there for their loved one when they can’t or want to be there.
    Thank you for sharing

  10. Hi Jeanne wow this really touched me as I recently spent a week in the hospital sitting with my Mom as I watched her health improve and arrangements were being made for her to be discharged so I left to take care of some matters and she passed away when I left. I have been told by many she was waiting for me to leave and I think they are. My Mom was a very strong independent woman and I truly she believed she just wanted to go being alone.


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