The Compassus volunteer coordinator had emailed, asking for a volunteer for an Angel Watch this evening as a patient was actively dying. I replied that I was available and was scheduled for the 7 to 9 p.m. shift.
I became a volunteer after five of my own family members were helped by hospice. They were able to stay at home and be surrounded by loved ones when they crossed over.
But this would be a new experience for me, because this person was in a nursing home and I would be by myself during this watch.
Arriving at the nursing home shortly before my shift, the patient’s wife greeted me and gave me an update. She was very nice and thanked me for coming to stay with her husband while she got a break.
She shared how she had told him all day that it was okay to let go and to go home to God because he had fought and struggled enough. The patient was unresponsive with very labored breathing. I explained to the patient that I was here to stay with him while his wife went home to get some rest.
As I sat by his beside, I assured him every so often that I was here, and that it was okay for him to go home … his wife would be fine. About an hour and a half into my stay his breathing changed, becoming very shallow, about four to eight breaths per minute.
I called the volunteer who was to replace me at 9 p.m. and informed her that it may not be long for this patient and she didn’t need to come.
After I hung up, I did an internet search for prayers for the dying — I believed this to be God working through me — and pulled my chair up close to him and softly read different prayers to him.
It wasn’t long until he took his last breath. The nurse on duty confirmed that he had passed and called his wife and the hospice nurse. Out of respect, I did another internet search for hymnal music and played such comforting songs as “How Great Thou Art,” “Go Rest High on That Mountain” and “Amazing Grace.” The patient’s wife came in during a bagpipe version of “Amazing Grace,”
and she was very touched.
I left the room so she could be alone with her husband, returning later to stay with her until the hospice nurse arrived. She told me she could not believe how wonderful Compassus had been to her and her husband since entering hospice three days prior. I explained to her that many of us had been in her shoes, so we understood the need for help and compassion.
My life has been so enriched by hospice workers and volunteers, I try to share my experience — as a family member and as a volunteer — everywhere I go.
With hospice, it’s an honor and a privilege to witness God’s grace, the circle of life and a celebration of life.
This article originally appeared in Everyday Compassion magazine. To browse full issues of the magazine, click here.