When you volunteer, are you giving or receiving?

Haven’t posted much these last few weeks because I started a volunteer position.  I wasn’t prepapred for the astonishing outcome, but it just goes to show that God knows where he wants you next, you just have to trust in Him.

I enjoy my leisure time since retiring and spend many hours writing.  Still, I yearned to become involved in an organization that would give me a sense of purpose.  As I skimmed a list of volunteer opportunities in my local newspaper, my eyes settled on two words, Story Keepers.  I paused to read more. 

VITAS Story Keepers capture the meaningful moments of a patient’s life.  The simple description intrigued me; yet, the thought of volunteering with a hospice care organization concerned me.  The emotional pain of watching my mother die a slow, difficult death from Alzheimer’s still weighed heavily on my heart.  I was not sure if I was ready for the task. 

I kept the clipping visible over the next week.  Finally, I picked up the phone and contacted the manager of volunteer services, Angela O’Hara, to learn more about the position.  Ms. O’Hara talked with me at length and explained that the position involved making an audio recording of the patient’s life.  Although I understood it would not involve writing in the capacity I had hoped, the thought of helping someone else document their life compelled me to become a Story Keeper.

 I completing all the necessary paperwork and training material provided by VITAS within a week.  It wasn’t long before I received the name of my first patient to interview.  Ms. O’Hara and I met the patient and his wife in their home.  After brief introductions, we settled down on the sofa and began conversing to get to know the elderly couple and to make them feel at ease with the Story Keeper process.

 The interview took an unusual and remarkable turn when the patient told us the school he attended.  I shared with him that I was familiar with the school, as I had attended a school in a bordering neighborhood.  Simultaneously, the patient and his wife remarked that she also attended the school which I mentioned.  The wife then turned to me and asked me if I was the daughter of Dorothy Hootselle (my mother).  She said she could see the resemblance when I first arrived, but could not place who I looked like.

 She introduced herself as my grandmother’s niece, who grew up just two blocks from my childhood home.  Both she and her husband knew my family intimately and shared stories with me that I would never have heard had it not been for the visit.  The patient’s wife even shared that my grandfather had saved her when she nearly drowned in a river.

The emotional journey over the next hour was overwhelming and rewarding.  The wonderful stories about my mother and her parents brought such joy to my heart, I left feeling like I was given a gift, one that I would treasure for life and share with my siblings.

Over the next few visits, I recorded heartwarming and memorable stories told to me by the patient and his wife.  From their heritage, to their marriage and their many life experiences, we worked together using the comprehensive questions offered in the Story Keepers Shared Stories User Guide to provide a gift for their children, grandchildren and future generations.  We completed the project and presented the audio recording to them on the patient’s 84th birthday.  The smile on their faces spoke volumes.

Being a Story Keeper for VITAS has provided me with a rewarding opportunity to influence the life of another.  The unexpected bonus of meeting two people who fulfilled a void in my life made the experience astonishing.  It is another example of how there is a thread of life that connects us all.