Tag Archives: Spiritual Care volunteer

Childhood Events Definitely Impact My Adult Choices

5 Dec

When I was a child, I remember going to my grandparents’ cousin’s candy store on Bergen Boulevard near Journal Square in Jersey City.  My brother and I have discussed their names, as it is a memory from long ago, over 50 years.  He remembers the wife as Anna, and I remember the husband, as Morris.  We will go with these two names.

Like my grandparents, they were from Europe.  I believe that Morris was my grandfather’s second cousin.  That is a connection I have yet to finalize.  But I am pretty sure he was not a first cousin.  However, in the area they came from in Galicia, Mielec, my grandfather’s family was large and very intermingled.

The best part of going to the candy store, of course, was the candy.  We could eat whatever we wanted, within the reasonable constraints of my mother. The other part was seeing Morris and Anna, who were always excited to see us.  They never had children of their own, but they loved us.

Sometimes, my Mom would drive my grandmother, my brother and I to visit them in the candy store.  I have good memories of being there. My grandmother and Anna always had a good time visiting.  So even though it was my grandfather’s cousin, my grandmother often went to visit without him.  And since she never learned to drive, my Mom had that job and we got to tag along.

Morris always sat behind the counter and ran the cash register. He sat there because he no longer had legs, he lost them to diabetes.   Anna ran the store.  She was tiny and very energetic.  That is why what happened is so sad.

img_1484

Morris’ rocking chair. Now owned by my brother.

Anna died first.  I don’t think she was that old.  But when she died, Morris could no longer stay alone. The store was closed; their belongings were sold or given away, and Morris went into a nursing home.  I remember my parents speaking about it, because we were gifted his rocking chair.  It did not go to the nursing home with him.  My brother still has the rocking chair in his home.  The tangible evidence that Morris and Ann were part of our world.

The nursing home Morris lived in for the rest of his life was in Bayonne, New Jersey, close to where our family dentist had his office.  Usually we all went to get our teeth done at one time.

But on this day, it was just my Mom and me.  As we drove away from the dentist office, she turned to me and said, “I want to go visit Morris.  I know he lives near here.”I don’t remember how old I was, somewhere between 10 and 12.  To be honest, I thought we were going to the candy store.  But I was in for an unpleasant and emotional surprise.

When we arrived at a large one-story building, my mother and I entered and went to the desk, where Mom announced that she wanted to see Morris.  The woman stopped what she was doing and called to someone, a nurse/supervisor/care giver came out.   Both were so surprised that we were there to see him.  The supervisor said, ‘Oh my, who are you? You are the first people who have ever come to visit him.”

My Mom was stunned.  “Are you kidding me.  He has nieces and nephews.”  But she was not joking.  No one had visited Morris in the year or so he had been living there.

The nurse walked us to his room.  In fact, by the time we got there, I think three or four nurses or caregivers were following us.  Mom walked in first and knelt down beside Morris.  “Morris, It’s me Frances, Nat and Thelma’s daughter.” She said in Yiddish as she reached out to him.

Morris started cry.  He put his hands on either side of Mom’s face and sobbed, “Frances Frances.” Her name was like a chant.   While Mom hugged him with one arm, she put out her other arm, I knew that meant I needed to come over.

“Here is Ellen,” she said.  My face was now embraced by his hands as he cried into my hair and stroked my face.  I was crying by then as well, as were Mom and the nurses/caretakers.  We stayed and talked to him for about an hour.  It felt longer.  He spent most of the time crying and hugging us. And asking about all the family. I have never forgotten.

As we went to leave, the supervisor asked Mom for her address and phone number in case they needed to reach someone.  They had no contacts for him.

We went and sat in the car.  My Mom cried for an additional half hour or so.  Just sobbing, with her arms crossed on the steering wheel and her face down in her arms.  I cried with her.  It was one of my saddest moments as a child.  When we got home, my Mom called her parents.

I never went back to the nursing home.  I think because every time I thought of him, I started to cry.   But I know my Mom and my grandparents went.  To be honest he did not live long after our visit.   My sister, who is four years younger than me, does not remember Morris or Anna. But what she does remember is my grandparents and my mom talking about him.  And my mother always talking about what happens to someone when they are all alone in the world.

For the past ten months I have been a Spiritual Care Volunteer at an elder care facility.   Over and over again people have asked me:  How can you do that?  Doesn’t it bother you? Isn’t too difficult when someone dies?

The answer to all these questions is an emphatic NO.  Each week when I go, I am greeted by smiles and joy.  I speak to each one of them.  Some days I give them hugs.  Sometimes someone cries, especially if they have recently lost a loved one.  Most of them have family members who often come to see them.  Most important to me is that I know that I am going every week.  I am giving them the attention that Morris so deserved and did not receive.

This childhood event definitely impacted my adult choices. Each time I go, I feel a little lift to my heart, knowing that I have helped to brighten someone’s day.  It is the best feeling, because each time I go, a little of the sadness that has followed me for over 50 years, whenever I think about Morris, dissipates.

Do More of What Makes You Feel Happy: Or Why I Want to be a Spiritual Care Volunteer

16 Jan

For the past two years I have been trying to find a different kind of volunteer role.  I have served on boards and planned events; I have shopped for gifts and supplies; I have written and stuffed letters; I have organized and directed. But I wanted something that was more one-on-one, where I could actually help someone. Something that would give me an important obligation and destination once I totally retired. Something that had meaning.  It is important to me to give back, to do tzedekah, to make a conscious, ethical commitment to do good.

Then I listened to a radio podcast that featured my sister-in-law.  In it she said something that resonated with me:  Do More of What Makes You Feel Happy!

I realized that something that makes me feel happy is making others feel happy.  Many times, when I am with someone not feeling well, or feeling blue, I just want to help them laugh before we leave each other.  I learned years ago that laughter really makes people feel better. The saying, “Turn that frown upside down and smile,” sticks in my mind.  I decided I needed to find a volunteer role that would help people feel emotionally better.

Several years ago, I participated in a two-day training program put on by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and our local Jewish Federation called, Wise Aging. We were taught how to facilitate a program for people who were in a transitional stage of life, from 50s to late 70s. We learned the skill of mindful listening. We learned about mindfulness and meditation along with dealing with transitions.

I really enjoyed teaching classes with my co-leader on the transition from thinking about the aging process to living in the aging process and how to make it a most positive experience.  But we are not doing as many workshops. I needed something else that might use the skills I learned from this workshop.

Then life happened.  Someone I know for years was in a rehab facility.  I went to visit her and saw what my visit meant, even though we were not close friends.  Then a good friend of mine was in the hospital and then rehab for months.  I started visiting her once a week when I was in town.  She loved the visits.  Even when her husband came, they wanted me to stay. Having outside company was comforting and helped them passed the time.  Besides making them happier for the company, it made me happier because I know my presence helped them.

img_1681

The booklet the volunteer dropped off.

One day when I was there, a man stopped by and gave her a booklet.  He was a spiritual care volunteer.  Since she had company he dropped off the booklet and said he would be back later.  Hummm the wheels in my brain already started to turn.

I remembered back to when my parents were sick.   I would fly to NJ every five weeks and spend a week there.  Many times, I was just going to the hospital every day.  My siblings wondered how I could sit in the hospital or nursing home all day long. They could not do it.  But it did not bother me.  I also remember the volunteers who came from the local synagogue to visit the hospitalized.  I had several nice conversations with them.  I remember thinking what a great way to do a mitzvah.

I remembered back to when I was a teenager and worked as a candy striper in a local hospital.  I had one incident that changed my desire to be a nurse, but I always liked helping others.  (See blog link below.)

Recently I was in Israel when my daughter had surgery. I spent several days in the hospital. Many times, my daughter’s roommate did not have someone there when I was there, so I helped her as well.  It made sense to me.  It is ‘gemulat hasidim,’a deed of loving kindness to help the sick.

My mind started ruminating over a specific volunteer opportunity: visiting the sick, or in our community Spiritual Care Volunteer.

I realized that this might be the best fit for me.  I like people.  I like to talk to people.  Sick people do not scare me.  I think some people are afraid to be around someone either old, or just someone who is sick.  It does not upset me.  The more I thought about it, the more considering volunteering as a spiritual care volunteer seemed right for me.

And then there were the ‘signs’!

One day while visiting my friend, the local rabbi in charge of Jewish Family Services’ Chaplaincy Program appeared to visit her as well.  I saw this as a sign.  The spiritual care volunteers are part of his program. I do not see him that often, and here I was thinking about calling him to volunteer when he showed up.  So right then, I told him, I want to do this.  It has been on my mind ever since. But. I did not follow up, I had much going on.

I went to Israel to be with my daughter.  When I come back from Israel. Rabbi Rudnick emailed me to comment on a blog I wrote about being in a hospital in Israel.  I took this as my second sign that I am really meant to be a spiritual care volunteer. I, in turn, emailed him and I reminded him that I wanted to participate in this program.  He put me in touch with another person at his agency to get more information.

My third sign is that the 12-hour training, which is to begin soon, is actually on days that I can attend!  That is amazing to me.  It really must be a sign that this is the right role for me.

I have filled out the paperwork, had my interview, had my rabbi write a letter of recommendation.  I am all set.  Next week I begin my training.  I have made a one-year commitment to this program.

I hope that I can give comfort to those that need comfort; listen to those who need to be heard; pray with those who need prayer; and cheer up those who need cheering.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/04/16/my-time-as-a-candy-striper/