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DeWayne's World - Death can offer insights

DeWayne Bartels

Susan Cody has looked into the cold eyes of death several times in the last couple of years.

And, she cannot think of anything more fulfilling. 

Cody is not a ghoul.

In fact, Cody is the farthest thing from it. She is a hospice volunteer.

There are a lot of ways to volunteer one’s time in the area. Some might think one of the strangest ways is to volunteer for hospice. You can count me among them.

I was taken back a bit when I received this e-mail recently: “Community Hospices of America is seeking caring dedicated volunteers who would enjoy being a part of our hospice team … Volunteer opportunities include: patient and family visits, holding a hand, providing caregiver relief, pet visits, playing bingo, sharing memories and providing musical entertainment. The personal rewards of volunteering are endless.”

Like I said, it sounds like a strange volunteer opportunity to me, but three Peorians — Jim Close, Dorothy Yaeger and Cody — tell me it is one of the most rewarding ways to give back to the community.

All three have been hospice volunteers, ranging from one year to almost two years. And, all three said in that short period of time, they have been changed for the better.

I was very curious about this area of volunteer work, so I sat down with all three last week.

“Why would one want do this?” was my first question.

“I want to be of some help to the world,” Close said, not offering a clue as to the rest of his blunt answer.

“I also wanted to know more about death. I wanted to know what to expect.”

Yaeger and Cody have a past with hospice, having seen it up close with family members. Cody said for her, it was about giving back, but also about getting something in return.

“If I can just give back to the patient half of what they give me,” she said.

And, Yaeger sees it as a spiritual thing.

She recalled a time when her phone rang and it was about a patient, not one of hers, who was close to death. Yaeger was the only volunteer close by. She went.

“I was there when she died. I knew what to do,” Yaeger said. “I was honored to be there.”

Cody nodded.

“It makes anyone’s faith stronger,” she said. “You have such closeness.”

Close had passed on the question, but he opened up.

“I had a patient who was a wonderful woman. She was a hard-core Republican. I’m a hard-core Democrat. But, we developed a real relationship. I shared my tea with her. She appreciated that,” Close said.

“I got to witness someone who died well. She was prepared. I never knew I would become so emotionally attached. I was devastated when she died.”

Close still mourns the woman’s death, but rejoices in his part of making her passing better.

Cody said, “I see myself as a non-judgmental safety net for them. I’ll cry with them. I’ll laugh with them.”

Yaeger smiled.

“I’m there to listen, to talk. I’m there for whatever they need. They know I’m there because I want to be.”

Cody said hospice is not difficult work.

“It’s a relationship with God, me and the patient,” she said. “Therefore, I never go alone.”

And, what they have gotten out of the experience is priceless, they say.

Close said he has been given some of the insight into death he wanted so badly.

“Most of my experience with death was in the military. It was fast. I just tried to avoid the subject,” he said.

“After talking to my patients, I have begun to understand death a little better. I have less fear of death. All the things you accomplish and want to accomplish don’t mean anything. In the end, it’s about those you love, and those who love you.”

Yaeger added, “I was also curious about what they get out of the experience. I’ve learned that you live on in the memories of others.” 

Cody said the gift she has found is contained in a smile.

“I’ve learned that no matter how horrible the situation, you can find something to smile about,” she said.

But, Close had what I felt was the most profound answer.

“I think in this society, we have gotten so involved with politics and the economy. The gift I’ve gotten is getting away from that,” he said.

“I’ve learned that while you are alive, you need to enjoy the wine and looking at beautiful women. You have to savor life. Life is beautiful. Creation is beautiful. I’m more conscious of the beauty in this world.”