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So, I’m picking up my messages at home. There’s the usual “selling me something” plus “will you vote for me” messages coming up. Most everyone I know calls my cell now. But wait! There, buried in the middle of all the spam is a message that begins with, “Hello, Meridian, this is Clovis, remember me?”

Ahhh, yes, how could I not? Clovis volunteered with us more than fifteen years ago. Her son had died from a prolonged fight with cancer and she had come to us to volunteer. It had been a year and a half since his death and she was feeling the need to do something with her life other than be retired. I want to say that she was a great volunteer. I want to say that she was a really good volunteer. I can say that she was a consistent volunteer and always showed up. Looking back on her two years of service, I cannot really say why.

Clovis worked in the office. She filed, helped with mailings and other assorted tasks. She was pretty good, don’t get me wrong, but what Clovis did was talk incessantly. We’ve all had volunteers like that, the chatty ones who talk continually. Some even talk over you as you try to get a word in about how to do a task. Clovis, though, talked incessantly about her son and his death and particularly about her son’s wife and how she did not do right by him.

We offered bereavement which she accepted. But as often happens to volunteer managers, I became the de facto listening ear. And so, for two years as Clovis dealt with the death of her son and all the trappings, I heard her. It was ok, believe me, because I was newer to the profession and a heck of a lot younger. I had the energy and truly, I never thought for a moment that being everything a volunteer needed, no matter what they needed was just part of the job.

I vividly remember one afternoon in particular. I came around the corner of the hallway and found Clovis weeping into the arms of another woman. The problem was, that other woman was a caregiver who was in the process of losing her loved one. Sigh. To this day, I use that example when teaching boundaries. Even though Clovis never worked with patients and families, she did at times encounter them as they came into the office. I shudder to think what happened outside the office in the general public.

Clovis’ phone message was long and rambling. She had broken a bone and was in rehab. She just wanted me to know. We all know what that is code for. I want you to call me or come see me.

Now here’s the Jekyll and Hyde part. There are volunteers who are in nursing homes that have given long, faithful service that I have not seen in a while. Guilt follows me like a pack of hyenas after a wounded zebra.

Did Clovis give that same amount of service? She certainly thought she did and in her own way, she gave what she could. How dare I judge her for that.

Do I want to sit and hear her for an hour or two. “No, don”t waste your time” whispers Jekyll in my ear. It’s like going back to that relationship that never worked out. I just don’t think I have the patience anymore. After all, would I want Clovis back as a volunteer? Not really, if I’m brutally honest. So I deleted the message.

Somehow, though, I clearly remember the name of the nursing home and room number from the message. Hyde is caressing my other ear with tales of what a nice person I am. Not used to be-still am. Where is that idealistic, I can turn anyone into a productive volunteer person? After all, isn’t volunteering a kind of symbiotic relationship? And besides, how can I try to teach people to be empathetic and not be empathetic myself? Pretty darn hypocritical, I’d say. And really, did I listen to Clovis all those years ago because I was so darned nice or was it because I held a loftier view of myself and my capabilities? Ouch, don’t go there Mr. Hyde.

Jekyll is laughing at me as Hyde keeps trying. What is that room number again? I think I still remember it so we’ll see who wins this battle. Maybe I can send a card or call and leave a message. Or maybe, I’ll give in to Jekyll and take an actual firm stand. Room 601 you say, Mr. Hyde? Got it.

-Meridian