We’re so used to the computer prompt when we see it: You are being redirected to another site. “Fine,” we think and we simply ease into the new locale. But did you ever think about why and how we are being redirected? Neither do I, but I think there’s probably a back story there.
Mary is a relatively new volunteer. She came to orientation like a firecracker tossed into a library. Mary introduced herself to everyone in the room before I could slip in my cute little icebreaker. During breaks, the class was talking up a storm. Usually it takes a session or two for that kind of comfort, but with Mary present, we cut to familiarity. She answered questions with stories, asked other participants to add more and before orientation was over, she had everyone’s number. Literally, she had all their phone numbers.
Mary wanted to work with patients and families and so we paired her with a seasoned volunteer, Joyce in a hospice house. “Well, she is chatty,” Joyce reported back. “She really got to know a lot about me.”
“But how did she do with the patients and families?”
“Fine,” Joyce said. “She asked a lot of questions. She seems genuinely interested in the patients’ lives.”
“Yeah,” I said, “that’s how I viewed Mary as well.’ Her chattiness is unique. She doesn’t chat about herself so much as she chats about your life as she gets to know you. It’s like having a great-grandmother who grills you each time you visit. It’s both soothing and nerve-wracking at the same time. I sensed that Joyce was holding back, so I asked her if she thought Mary had the potential to be a good volunteer.
“Yes,” she slowly said. “The thing is, she might just talk too much when a family just needs peace and quiet. I’m not sure she can be silent.”
“So, you think we shouldn’t put her with patients?”
“No, I don’t think that. It’s hard to say. I think we should give her a chance.”
Now, most of the time, folks like Mary settle down into volunteering and do a great job. As they learn from other volunteers, they adjust and adapt and it is thrilling to hear them say things like, “I’ve learned so much,” and “I’m getting the hang of it.”
But, although Mary genuinely cared for each patient and family she encountered and asked appropriate questions, her chattiness continued.
One day, a staff member tentatively approached me and apologized for bringing this up, but, it seems that Mary was in the room with a patient and family, over stayed her visit and pretty much chatted with them when all they wanted was to sit and be still. So we called Mary in and talked to her about her experience.
“What a beautiful family,” Mary said. “I learned how each member of this family traveled over distances to get here to be with their father.”
“That’s a lot of information you gathered,” I said.
“Oh, they were so wonderful to talk to. I loved it.”
We talked more and I finally said, “Mary, you also need to know when to exit. Families can be weary and although they love how you listen, they also need us to leave them alone too. Do you sense that?”
“I do,” she admitted. “I don’t want to cause them any more pain.”
So, she promised to watch out for over staying her welcome in patients’ rooms.
The next week the charge nurse came to see me. “We’ve got to do something about Mary.” she said.
“Uh oh, what happened?”
“Well, one of my nurses observed Mary talking to a family member at the coffee station. The nurse had to rescue the family member from Mary so he could go see his uncle.” The charge nurse then said, “You know, this is not the place for her.”
Well, I had to admit, after further talking with staff, the charge nurse was right. Mary’s exuberant chattiness was not suited for the quieter nature of a hospice house. What to do with her?
An answer came quite unexpectedly. One of the bereavement counselors happened to stop by and we talked for a bit. He mentioned that he had a lady client who needed a special volunteer to be her bereavement friend. “She is so lonely, she really needs someone to pay attention to her and well, just socialize.”
I jumped at the chance to place Mary and so I called her up and asked to meet with her. She timidly came in and asked if I was going to fire her. “No,” I said, “Why would you think that?” (I love that question, because clearly if a volunteer asks that, they have an inkling that something is amiss)
“I talk too much,” she said. “I can’t help it and I know the nurses are mad at me.”
“They’re not mad, Mary. They just want what’s best for our families.”
“I know. I try to be quieter, but it’s hard.” She made a face like a little girl and for an instant, I could picture her in the principal’s office, being scolded once again.
“We all have gifts, Mary and yours is your love of life.”
“So, I don’t belong here, then.” She was resigned. I suspected that she knew we were in salvage mode.
“No, but I would like you to consider a different role. One, in which you can be more yourself.”
I told her about the bereavement assignment and let her know that it was equally as important. We chatted for quite some time and I assured her that we were going to work with her and that we wanted her to volunteer.
We’ve been three weeks into Mary’s new role and she is doing well. We are getting positive feedback from our client and that is good. But I’m optimistically cautious. We’ll take it slowly and I think with more time and mentoring, Mary will make a good volunteer.
If not, we can try another redirect.