A Hospice Lesson
When I dropped off my salads for the Hospice of Haines volunteer training Wednesday evening, (the board makes meals for the trainees) organizers Beth and Liz were counting chairs and looking around for more. Beth said they'd need 18. It was a record turnout. ( The Hospice board makes meals for the trainees during the nights and weekends of the class.) That means there will be more volunteers to help folks remain in their homes as "bridge" clients, or transition from here to there, in true Hospice fashion. It also means 18 more people will be among us who have a new awareness of illness and death, and who are thinking about the big question-- the meaning of life. I like that. The training has already sparked some conversation around town. In the bookstore yesterday, two of the trainees discussed the last lesson of Wednesday's class. The group were given a grid, with four lines containing five boxes. The first line was People, the second Activities, the third Places and the fourth Things. They were instructed to write their favorite five in each line. When that was done, they were asked to cross out one of those precious People, Activities, Places, or Things (this is a catch-all, from special meals to good dogs) as an imaginary fatal illness took its course. In the end, the new volunteers were down to one of each, and then, finally, just one box. Most had a person they loved in theirs. This is really, really hard. One of the trainees said that she followed the rules, but had a feeling others didn't, because it was too upsetting. She said her teenage daughter had an easier time with it than she did, and wondered if it was youth, or a spiritual maturity beyond her years. She said her daughter believes in reincarnation, and had told her in the car on the way home that she thinks death is harder on the people left behind than the person dying. I recalled when I took the training, about four years ago, and how, in the moment it seemed so difficult to choose what to eliminate, but how, after going through several illnesses and deaths with friends and family, those losses-- the Activities, the Places, the People even, sort themselves out, sometimes gracefully, sometimes not, naturally. I don't think this is a grim exercise at all. I think paying attention to the stuff we love is something we should all do more of. That little exercise can help us live better, no matter how long we have.
I'm off again with the cross-country team, we head to Sitka this weekend. Wish us luck. My husband will be up to his hip boots in the swamps up river, stalking moose for the freezer. Mark your calendar for the local candidate forum Monday night in the Chilkat Center Lobby, you can ask the folks running for assembly what they think about what's important to you-- from the library and local non-profits like Hospice, to the ambulance service, Picture Point, and the re-structuring of the tourism department.