I attended a funeral a few nights back. Volunteer managers do a lot of that. We find time to be involved in a lot of family functions, births, deaths, graduations, citizenship ceremonies, and birthdays.
I had to drive a good distance to this one. Nothing new, right? It was in the evening. Big deal. Didn’t know anyone there but the bereaved former volunteer. Check. It was important to go. Of course. I didn’t know the person that died. As usual. Was it one more event to wonder whether I had the time to devote? Yes. And when I pulled into the church’s dirt parking lot, did I wish I had changed my shoes? Naturally.
As I got out of my car, I fished for my phone which had fallen between the seats. I didn’t see that large truck speeding down the row of parked vehicles. I stood up and closed the door just as that truck kicked up so much dirt and gravel that it literally blanketed me with a gritty cloud of dust. I shook myself like a dog in water and headed for the church, dignity intact.
Nigel volunteered with us over ten years ago. He had come here from England after the death of his first wife, a young woman whom he had tenderly cared for after eight years of marriage. His life as he knew it had been shattered. He happened to meet another lovely young woman on a holiday in the states and started coming to visit her. They would also take cruises together, or book tours in exotic places just to spend the time with one another. He could come over for short periods of time to be with her, but he could not come here permanently, unless they married.
While on his first real stay here in the states, he decided to volunteer at hospice while his American girlfriend worked. That’s how I came to know him. Ten years ago, he was a man rejuvenated, a man alive again and he became an absolute favorite of the staff. After his six months here he had to go back. We kept in touch via email. Some years ago, he indicated that the American woman he loved, Kari, had some medical issues. A couple of years ago, he told me that it was cancer. Last year he told me that treatments were increasing. Two months ago, he told me that it was terminal and that he finally received a visa after all these years. He came here to this country to care for his love while she died.
I listened to him in the church as he stood before a crowd of people who loved Kari. I listened to him speak of her as his love and how she rescued him from the darkest time in his life. I listened to him as he told of how she touched everyone with her smile and wit and love of travel. Not once did he mention the hardships they faced. Not once did he refer to all he did. Not once did he say that twice he spent years of his life in the hardest role there is; caring for someone you love as they die. Not once did he complain except for the void that now existed.
For my part, my heart broke as I listened to him tell of how he and Kari were finally married just a month before she died.
Will I complain again when faced with having to do the right thing? Yes, I will. There is only so much time and there are so many volunteers to attend to. Will I always be reminded that the right thing is the hard path for most everyone? No, sometimes that message is clouded. But as the dust settles, my imprint on the world is there. And most of the time, despite all the irritable complaining, I have to get a bit dusty to make an imprint at all.