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

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Jeanne Melanson

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Born in Nova Scotia, I moved to the United States 20+ years ago.I am a dedicated lover of animals and fight for their rights and protection.I love people too, of course, and enjoy meeting folks from all walks of life.I enjoy philosophical discussion, laughing, and really odd ball stuff.I hope you enjoy my site.Leave me a comment to let me know you were here!Peace out.
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32 thoughts on “My Personal Experiences of Sitting With the Dying as HOSPICE Volunteer”

  1. 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

  2. My dearest lady, you are indeed a saint! I am reading this as I sit vigil at the bedside of my dearest aunt who is mentally challenged. Although, she is seventy- eight she was reasonably healthy and would not be in hospice had she not had a negligent doctor and substandard health care. Her greatest pleasure in life was eating/food. A hiatal hernia went undiagnosed until it was so enlarged that it pushed her stomach into her rib cage in addition to an undiagnosed blood clot in her leg. I do not live in the same state as she but always felt that her dr. was totally incompetent; however I was unable to convince the people who were designated caretakers to get another dr.
    She has gone without food for five weeks, the feeding tube was removed because it was constantly clogged, two weeks ago. I insisted they replace it because that was literally inhumane- to allow her to starve to death with no fluids.
    She has a speech impediment, which makes it hard for others to understand. I am an MS patient who has been in a relapse for five months – and very ill – but I had no choice – I had to come – or die trying. I have cried a bucket of tears, and this has caused me to question God. As tears are streaming down my face listening to her outbursts/dreams calling out the name of all her favorite foods.
    I am praying incessantly that she be removed from this inhumane torture. Undoubtedly this has to be for a greater purpose/good. What can I learn from going through this experience / what good can possibly come from this? At this point, it has me thinking I should look into becoming a hospice volunteer.
    You are appreciated more than you will ever know…
    Gratefully yours,
    Karen Maxwell

    • Bless your heart, Karen. It’s a beautiful thing that you are there for your aunt in her final days. I can feel the torture and frustration in your voice. I know personally what it’s like to watch someone whose feeding tube has been removed. It is my understanding that she may not be suffering as much as you think.

      You say she is mentally challenge. I wonder if her close relationship with food may have been her security in this world. The fact that she calls out for food could be linked to her past obsession/joy with it, just as someone else might call out to their missing relatives. When a person truly dying, the body is shutting down and doesn’t want or need the nutrients. I know it sounds very cruel and forgive me if I’m wrong. It’s not easy. I can also understand your questioning of god.

      I’m wishing there were easy answers for you. One thing that I might ask you is not to project your fear and anger in front of her. She is probably more aware than you realize and it is important to help them, and let them, go as peacefully as possible. She is going through her own personal process that we cannot possibly relate to.

      I pray for her peaceful passing and for your peace of mind. Love

  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.
    Rochelle Gordon recently posted…Be Out Of Your MindMy Profile

    • Aww, I imagine that made you sad when you arrived and she was already gone. I know that’s how I would feel. But, yes, it’s a common thing for the parent to die when their child(ren) are absent. We’ll never understand until we get there ourselves. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I appreciate you.

  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!
    David Haines recently posted…Want Success? Shut Up & Go Get It!My Profile

    • Thank you for your kind remarks, David. That’s true, it is all about perspective. Just being there for them is all I could do. Just keeping them company, and being there to answer questions or to just listen was often comfort enough. It’s a beautiful things, really. I appreciate your comment, David.

  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.
    Bellaisa recently posted…Starting The Silva Life System: Super Excited!My Profile

    • I’m sorry to hear of your sad experiences, Bellaisa. I’ve known others who have had to leave as well because they couldn’t handle it. I’m not sure how I could do it, really. But as soon as I heard about the program, I wanted to “dig in”. Maybe it was because no one else wanted. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you’ll come visit again. Peace!

  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.

    • I’m happy that you are living your life so that you will have no regrets, Ryan. That is so valuable and may even be rare, I don’t know. Yes, I have seen a lot of death, and it has impacted me more than I can possibly say. Each death was unique in own way. I’m glad that you and the puppy were able to connect like that. It was meant to be. Thanks for your comment, Ryan.

  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. such an incredible and important thing to do, both for the patient and their family. I have heard many times of Children who have missed their parents passing. How peaceful to know that they are not alone.

  11. Hi, what a great post and what a worthwhile volunteering you’ve done.

    I truly admire you, I don’t think I could do it, truly, I couldn’t. Perhaps I am afraid, or perhaps because I haven’t seen many people close to me dead. My mother died when I was 3 months old, my dad when I had left my native Argentina.

    So up to know, I’ve never seen someone close dying or dead. I really admire you and you have a wonderful blog.

  12. 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.
    Kirsten recently posted…It Takes a CommunityMy Profile

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