Just visited a volunteer in the hospital on Friday. This is something we all do routinely; visit in the hospital, attend funerals of spouses, send get well cards and flowers, mourn the passing of relatives and bring casseroles to homes. Our volunteers are more than just unpaid help and the more we nurture them for duty, the more we get personally meshed in their lives. Unless we are stone cold beings, we are affected greatly by the things that befall our charges. They hurt, we feel. And because we have so many more part-time volunteers, we have more human element on our plate than any HR manager. It is our burden to bear.
This volunteer has inoperable cancer. Now, working for a hospice, this doesn’t come as some huge surprise. He was losing weight. He was worried and scared. He knew before they told him, but being a private, independent person, he kept us at an arm’s length until he was sure. Now, he let us in. He talks about quality of life. He wants to continue to volunteer. His son was touched by how well we knew his Dad, how we had inside jokes with him, how we reminisced over 12 years of service. His Dad is more than the guy who works on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He’s as human to us as a member of our family. And so we prepare ourselves to walk this last journey with him. Tears, loss, and hurt will be our companion. To care is to feel and when you manage volunteers, your feelings are open at all times. We bare ourselves emotionally because we care that these people get something out of their volunteering and so ultimately, we care about them.
All the encouragement, the jokes, the listening, the training, the feedback, the inquiring, the answering, the building? That was easy.
Now once again, comes the hard part: The goodbye.