This time last year started a string of deaths in my small world. I became numb to the phone calls where the news was bleak.
Currently, it’s almost as if the universe has taken a 180. People are having babies left and right. It’s a pleasant turn….trust me.
However, I have, as of late, had the urge to volunteer at a hospice. In college I volunteered at the Carl Bean Hospice in Los Angeles (which, I found after a quick google search, was shut down two years ago due to lack of funding) It was opened right after the LA Riots of 1992 and housed patients with HIV who had proof from a doctor that they had less then 6 months to live. Many of the residents came directly from jail, or off the streets. It was in a less then savory part of town. But the second you drove through the large copper gates, it was as if you were in Shangri-la. The modern architecture and wide open spaces were inviting and lovely.
The time spent at the hospice was always delightful. My presence there was simply to entertain the residents, no song and dance, but board games and the like were par for the course. There was a resident who loved to play with my “white girl hair.” He had been a hustler for the majority of his life and was never without his lavender robe and matching turban. I would walk in the room with every hair tool I could find and he would go to town. He asked about my life. He seemed to savor the inane stories I told him. I would ask him questions and he would respond with a question back at me. I caught on pretty quickly that he didn’t want to talk about himself. One day as I drove up to the hospice I saw him sitting on the sidewalk outside the gates. I rolled down the window, asking what he was doing. He just shook his head and motioned for me to drive in. When I asked one of the counselors what was up, she told me that he was waiting for his dealer. He had been clean for 4 years, but had a sudden craving for the heroin that had played a large role in him being in the hospice in the first place. It broke my heart. The counselor assured me that it was fine, his t-cell count was so low and his viral load so high that his time in this world was short. If heroin was going to make him feel better, or even just feel nothing, it was the best thing for him.
Visits were exhausting. I would spend a few hours focusing on only the positive aspects of life and simply being there for someone who had no one else. I would walk out the door energized, but it would only take driving a few blocks before the tears would come. It scared me to see how alive people are right before they die. It terrified me to think that something horrible would have to happen before I would really appreciate life. It dismayed me to know that in a few hours or a day, I would forget these feelings and go back to the life of a college student, until it was time to go back to the hospice and the circle of events would start all over again.
It seems odd or morbid, perhaps, but being surrounded with impending death like I was made me feel more alive then usual. It puts things into perspective. That is why I think I want to go back into volunteering with hospice. No one should die alone. From a completely selfish standpoint, the ability to bring joy or relieve sorrow is the best feeling ever. I guess I have some research to do…….