By Piper Bayard
Someone recently asked me what I do as a Hospice volunteer, and I told her that basically, it’s my job to tell people I see their butts.
Hospice is a service dedicated to providing people with the most comfortable death possible. We tend to physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients who usually have less than six months to live. We call ourselves midwives because each of us has felt that overlap between this life and the next as heaven opens to receive its newest child.
image by I. Craig, wikimedia commons
When I first told my friends I was training for Hospice, I got a number of reactions.
1. Uhmm . . . Better you than me.
2. Wow. I could never do that.
3. She’s such a Drama Queen that should be perfect for her. (Said behind my back by a catty belly dancer and passed on to me by another catty belly dancer.)
Most often, though, I got a mystified look and a disbelieving shake of the head with the question, “Why?”
The smartass answer? Because it’s easier to deal with dying people than with my teens. Dying people are a temporary commitment, but my teens want to hang out on my couch and eat my groceries forever.
The real answer? Because when my mother was dying, I was all she had. Since my children were young, I couldn’t be with her at the nursing home more than a few hours a day. I really wished someone could sit with her when I couldn’t. So after she died, I realized that was something I could give to someone else.
One thing I’ve learned from my work is that dying people tell the best stories. They are a hoot. I’ll be talking with a woman who looks like the quintessential grandma. You know, the kind that bakes cakes that really do look like Thomas the Tank Engine and flinches at the word “sex” because she couldn’t possibly have ever had it. No grandma ever has, right?
So I’ll be talking to this grandma with wise eyes and perfectly coiffed hair, except for that messy spot that mushes up against her pillow, and she will tell me some crazy stories from the youth her family never knew she had. She thought she was so smart at fourteen, smoking in the bathroom and blowing it out the window, until she opened the door to find her father standing there. She stole away from home at seventeen to elope with a boy, only to jump out of the car at the Washita bridge in the middle of the night and run all the way home, still single. At forty, she and her friend got a wild hair one day and did a “Thelma and Louise” cross-country, but without the flying leap at the end. Ten days later, their husbands both took them back.
image from “Thelma and Louise”
And then there are the other stories. How her mother and father stopped speaking after that night he came home so late, and the family grew cold and distant. How she regretted not marrying that man she left at the Washita bridge. How her husband didn’t really die of a heart attack like she always told the world, but that he committed suicide, and she never knew why.
As humans, we have a deep need to say, “Yes. I was here. Did you see me?” We need to know we did not grow and bloom and die in a vacuum. We need validation, because parts of us are like our butts. We can’t see our butts. We may feel them, but we need a mirror or a friend to tell us what they look like. As a Hospice volunteer, I give people the gift of letting them know I see their butts. Yes. Those parts of you are here, and I see you.
Today, I’m dedicating this blog to Teri Parks, who was born into a new life almost a month ago. She loved to laugh. Not only was she the best Mrs. Claus ever, but she also threw the social event of the season every 4th of July with a dozen fried turkeys, bubble-blowing guns, horseshoes, music, and 150 of her closest friends. The world is a little colder with her passing.
When I went to visit her on her last day, she had the greatest blessing a soul can earn in this life. A room full of loving family and friends, talking and laughing and remembering with her, confirming for her that, yes. She was here, and they saw her. All of her. And she was beautiful.
Do you have witness in your life who tells you they see your butt? Do you do that for someone else?
All the best to all of you for a week of validation.