On some days, I don’t think it all matters. Granted those are tough days, and on those tough days, the thought of futility can set in. What difference does it really make? The vast majority of difference we make as volunteer managers, we cannot see. That makes it hard. We don’t see the person who, after the phone call telling them that a volunteer will come out and help, cries into their hands with relief. We don’t see the family who gets to make it one more day because we sent a volunteer who we personally trained and mentored correctly.
So, we have to tuck those times when we do get that glimpse into how we matter away and take them out when times get tough. Then, we need to multiply that nugget by 100 or maybe 1000, because we don’t see our volunteers spreading what they’ve learned from us into the community either.
Three nights ago I drove to a local shuttle bus depot to pick up my husband after a few days visiting his brother. He had taken the shuttle after flying into our closest airport. I sat in the car and listened to the radio. All of a sudden he came up beside the door and said, “Quick, you have to get out and come with me.” At my alarmed look, he added, “you have to meet someone.”
Husbands, I thought. I’m in crappy clothes and now I have to meet some guy who probably golfed every golf course on the planet. So I got out and followed my husband to the shuttle bus where a lady came up to me. “This is my wife,” my husband said to her while stepping away to get his luggage.
She looked at me and smiled. “I’m Sandy Duvall. Does that name ring a bell?”
Whoa, I thought and my mind started to scroll. “Robert, the actor?” I weekly replied.
“No,” she said kindly. “Jeremiah.”
I stared at her face as the confusion dissipated. “No, seriously, you’re Jeremiah’s wife?”
Sandy had been sitting in the row in front of my husband on the bus. The driver had called out all the last names and when she heard Swift, she wondered. Later during the ride, she happened to hear my husband chatting with the person next to him and heard the word “hospice”. So, she turned and asked him whether his wife worked there and when he said “yes”, she told him a story. He then told her that she would have a chance to meet me when they arrived at the depot.
Fifteen years ago, Jeremiah Duvall rode his bicycle to our care center. He was only 62 years old and dying of cancer. He wanted to volunteer. He lived in another state with his wife, Sandy and was just going to be in our area for a few months. Sandy worked and could not come with him. He wanted to take the training, do some volunteering and then volunteer at a hospice where he lived. He made no bones about his illness and no bones about not letting it get in the way of helping others. I believed him instantly. Jeremiah was a one-in-a-million. I taught him nothing and he taught me so much. He taught me about grace and courage and living life to its fullest. Sadly, he took training, volunteered a few times and had to return home where he died within a month. To this day, when I see a bicycle parked in front of the care center, I think of him.
In the middle of all the commotion of the returning travelers, on a warm, dark night, Sandy asked me, “do you remember the letter you wrote me after Jeremiah died?’
I did and I do. I struggled to write that letter, to let this person whom I had never met know how special her husband was. I almost didn’t send it. I thought it was too much.
With tears rolling down her face, she said, “I still have it. and I want you to know how much it meant to me. I told him that no hospice would let him volunteer because of his illness, but he insisted. Thank you for taking him. You have no idea what that did for him.”
No, I didn’t know. But fifteen years later, on a crowded nondescript night, I got a gift. It is the gift of hearing that you have done the right thing and that it mattered. How I treasure that gift. I will take it out and turn it over in my mind when things are hard and I struggle to do the right thing. And I’ll never doubt my husband again.
You don’t think you make a difference? You do.