There are some volunteers who are just, well, the best. They may not do the most work, nor create the biggest stir, but because you deal with them one on one, you get to know them. Really know them. You know their history, their personality, their quirks, and you end up liking everything about them. They are humble, continually deflecting praise back on to others. They are fun to be with and have a huge sense of life and the joy of it. They are funny, make you laugh and are easy to be with. And they take the work seriously, do it beautifully and make no fuss about it. They are genuinely with you to help. What a concept.
Fortunately I have quite a number of these great beings. One of them, I’ll call her Dottie has had some major health issues. I’m talking life threatening stuff. Being the full of life person, the change in lifestyle has been devastating for her. She has become the recipient of help, not the provider. Not too easy for a person who has given her whole life. The medications and effects of the disease has left her with much to deal with, including some fogginess, unsteady gait and other changes that embarrass the heck out of her. How do I know? Well, I didn’t, but I found out the hard way.
She had been avoiding us after her illness. I would call to tell her how much we missed her, but left her the message that we didn’t expect her back, we just missed her. Truth be told, I missed her, wanted her around, really craved that piece that was not there. So I invited her to everything benign or mundane, just to include her. After all, I didn’t want her to think I forgot, right? She refused most everything and I kept at it until one day she agreed and came to a meeting.
She was unsteady, out of breath, and foggy. She had multiple medications that were being adjusted because they were causing her all sorts of side effects that interfered with her life. She was having a hard, long time getting better.
Well, wouldn’t you know, she tried to stand up and fell and hurt herself. She had to be taken home and her concerned husband took her to the ER to be safe. She apologized profusely for interrupting the meeting and being such a burden.
So, although this happened a few months ago, the sting is still as biting as if the bee were just flying away. I was the one who practically walked into her house and kidnapped her. I caused her more embarrassment, not less. Was it my fault? Maybe not, but she certainly would not have been in that situation except for my cheery encouragement. Did I mean for that to happen? Of course not, but that doesn’t lessen the guilt.
I think what I’ve taken away for this is we can’t always guarantee we know what’s best for anyone. let alone our volunteers. We just have to take them on their word when they tell us things outright and when they try to maintain their dignity beneath a veil of white lies or stony silence.
Our volunteers’ persona with us includes strength, courage, capability and helping. When that is taken from them, they may wish to retreat and not let us see their wounds. We, on the other hand want to mother them. Maybe they don’t want a mother so much as they want to be understood.
Maybe I need to allow them that shred of human dignity. Then maybe I won’t have this stinging feeling that it was all my fault.