As an 11th Hour Volunteer, I have had the privilege of keeping vigil with patients at their bedsides at the very end of their lives. The term vigil comes from the 12th century Old French term vigile, meaning “to watch or guard.” I embrace that implication that I am keeping watch over our patients. Other 11th Hour Volunteers I have talked with at Heart ‘n Home have told me poignant stories from their service keeping vigil. Our experience with patients as they are actively dying is incredibly rewarding. What a honor it is to be a presence when they are most visible. Hospice teaches us about what truly matters and how to live bravely and transparently.
Cicely Saunders, who launched the modern hospice movement, said this of our calling in hospice, “’Watch with me’ means, still more than all our learning of skills, our attempts to understand mental suffering and loneliness and to pass on what we have learnt. It means also a great deal that cannot be understood. Those words did not mean ‘understand what is happening’ when they were first spoken. Still less did they mean ‘explain’ or ‘take away’. However much we can ease distress, however much we can help the patients to find a new meaning in what is happening, there will always be the place where we will have to stop and know that we are really helpless. It would be very wrong indeed if, at that point, we tried to forget that this was so and to pass by. It would be wrong if we tried to cover it up, to deny it and to delude ourselves that we were always successful. Even when we feel that we can do absolutely nothing, we will still have to be prepared to stay. ‘Watch with me’ means, above all, just ‘be there’. I remember the patient who said of the people who had really helped her, ‘They never let you down. They just keep on coming.’”
This is what we do when we keep vigil as 11th Hour Volunteers. We are a crucial part of the team, even as we just watch. Being there is a great comfort to our patients, their families, and our Heart ‘n Home team. We have 11th Hour Volunteer Trainings in every area over the next few months. Please call your local Heart ‘n Home office and sign up with your Volunteer Coordinator. I am also available and would love to talk more with you about this fulfilling way to serve.
Sarah Poe, CPS
Heart ‘n Home Hospice & Palliative Care, LLC