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I took a call yesterday from a volunteer who had taken orientation with us several months before. She never really got started in her chosen volunteer job, because a series of events kept her from the initial start. We finally left it at asking her to call us when she was available. She did call and in a very controlled voice told me that she was ready to start and then in passing mentioned a tragedy that occured in her family around the time she completed orientation.

You can sense when someone is just holding things together. You can achingly hear how one word will send them spiraling into the depths of sadness. In a way, you want to go there, to hear their pain, to let them know it’s ok to lose it all in front of you, but that’s not what they want. They want to make it.

Feeling that from her, I didn’t press her at all, I simply told her that we would work out what day she could begin. Now, will this be a huge mistake? I honestly don’t know. Do I owe her the chance? I think so. What would normally be a quick run through of the things she needs to know about volunteering will now be a longer, more drawn out process as we monitor her for signs of stress. Some people truly need to add normalcy to their lives after a tragedy happens. It grounds them and makes them better equipped to help themselves. Others don’t do that as well and they almost fool themselves into thinking they would benefit from activity. Volunteering can be very therapeutic for those who freely give of themselves, but it can also immerse the person in tragedy, sadness and overwhelm them with others’ problems.

It is a very fine line. We will be carefully monitoring this volunteer for not only her sake, but for the sake of our patients and families who, during their time of need, cannot take on another’s pain.