It had been a few years since I had knocked on this door on the 16th floor of the palliative care unit. Checking his name, I knew I had seen this patient before, but on a different floor.
I enter the room. “I am back,” he whispers. “Can you sit with me?”
“Of course I can, as long as you wish.”
The news isn’t good. He has about four weeks, he explains.
A life will end and it’s a life that matters to me. I find myself thinking: why does it happen?
I remembered that on previous visits he had shared his beliefs and his philosophy on life with me. I look to these memories, hoping they’ll provide me with some comfort.
As I sit with him I learn that his mother doesn’t know his diagnosis. He’s struggling with the idea of telling her. Mothers know so much without being told, I wonder if she knows without hearing the words from her son’s lips?
“What should I do?” He asks. I’m honoured and touched that he’s turned to me for advice, but also unsure. We talk about his wish to protect his mother. And we also talk about how he would like her to have time to say goodbye.
We tell her together.
Afterwards, his mother and I sit in the lounge. She’s a mother in pain. I’m a volunteer who has sat here before. It always hurts.
As the days pass and he grows weaker we hold hands and sit in silence.
When I leave on Wednesday we say goodbye. He thanks me. I wanted to thank him for giving the privilege of being a part of his final journey, but I’m at a loss for words.
I come again on Friday. His mother tells me that he passed away a few hours earlier. She invited me to come and see her son. As I looked at him, I think about the great respect and admiration I had for him.
This family has inspired me. They have given me a gift – to keep volunteering and to the best volunteer I can be.
Ursula Payne, Volunteer