Students Journey to New Understanding
Students traverse emotional waters throughout the duration of the course, learning how to cope and deal with difficult things such as death and loss. Many students express fears and anxieties at the beginning of the course, but by the end of the year have an improved sense of confidence and self-esteem in their ability to care for others, physically and emotionally. The experiences they have are life changing, and won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Some students will go on to practice what they’ve learned in their pursuit of careers in the world of medicine, and some will continue to volunteer at hospice homes, but all will enact what they’ve learned dealing with the ups and downs in their daily lives. Students change in unforeseen ways, and many form deep emotional bonds with residents that they never anticipated. Students face the possibility of messing up, the finality of death, but are ultimately inspired by what they’ve seen and learned and take those lessons a step further by emboldening others to follow in their footsteps.
In Their Own Words
Yesterday I didn’t have a shift but I drove out just to say hi to her and see how her week was going.
“No one wants to talk about death, or how to deal with losing a loved one, or the process of it. This is a really good way to get familiar with it […] get an idea of what to plan out if you are experiencing that at that moment, and it’ll just help you get your life together faster.”
“It makes me aware of the conversations I’m having and my actions, and I think that will play into not only my future profession, but just my future social experiences.”
[About a resident]: “She was just really nice and encouraging about everything and just telling me not to worry and she’ll be fine, just do what I have to do.”
“I really wanted to get some hands-on experience, with helping people, I really like to help people with anything really, but especially this… I’m not really scared of dying, but I know that a lot of people are. So I want people to know that there are people there to care for them […] working with people in the vulnerable time of their life.”
“I think it’s an experience that you really won’t get anywhere else, especially at our age, I don’t know any other school that has it. It’s really helpful for building relationships, not only with the other people in our class […] but also understanding how to build relationships with people that you aren’t particularly close to, like the residents or the resident’s families. It just helps you connect with people, in a way that you wouldn’t think you’d need to, unless you took the class.”
“I have this one resident, her name is Louise […] super sweet and she’s so nice and I sit with her […] she’s always sayng thank you and she’s really thankful that I’m there and it’s just memorable for me.”
Joyce, Kai & Athena
Athena Baronos and Kai DeJesus visiting with a resident at the Advent House, Joyce. Photos by Amelia Hamilton
Wanda & Coco
Coco Cai, one the Hospice students, had a strong connection with one of the residents she worked with, Wanda. Here is a letter Coco had written about her time with Wanda.
When I saw the preview of your email yesterday morning, I was already afraid. I opened the email and could not believe it has already happened. It’s too soon. Even though my teacher, Sybil Prince, has prepared us well on how to deal with a resident’s pass-away, it was still hard, it still is. Wanda was the first and only resident that I’ve really connected with since I started volunteering at Benincasa. All I could think about all day was Wanda’s smile and the way she waved to me when she saw me coming in for my shift. I remember last Wednesday, she said to her sister and sister-in-law after seeing me first stepped in “this is Coco!” I was more than surprised seeing her remembering my name and introducing me to her family. Later on during that shift, she kept offering me pie and cookies, like what she always did. Another volunteer made signs that say “Wanda’s Bakery” and “Sold Out” etc. When Wanda saw these signs, she laughed “the business is going to be closed soon”. We told her, we will be sad then, because we love her. She responded “I love you, you , and you! (pointing fingers at us) I love all of you. You are all good people.” And then she joked about how she should pass the business onto me so there will be no taxes. How smart! This was just one of the many cute stories with our angel, Wanda. I loved her sincerely, and I still do. I am SO glad and feel more than privileged to get to know such a beautiful and amazing lady like her. Her words and spirit will keep inspiring me to become an even better person and to live my own life to the fullest.
Student Anecdotes about Residents
“We did an aging simulation in which we would put tape around our joints to simulate arthritis, we would put little rocks you would put in an aquarium in your shoes to simulate nerve pain, we had glasses with vaseline to fog our vision, we had to breathe through a straw, we had earplugs. That really helped me kind of understand how they’re feeling, because personally my grandmother, she’s elderly, she’s getting older, and she has arthritis, so I didn’t really know how she felt like as she’s walking around my house or trying to go in her car… because she’ll take quite a time to try to sit down, and just how much pain she’s in. And she really, along with residents, to understand what they’re going through, or a fraction of what they’re feeling. And to be able to sympathize with them.”
“I met the two residents, and one of them took a liking to me I guess, her name was Claire… she’s very religious, and she’s like, ‘I can sense there’s something in you, are you Christian, do you go to church? And I was like, “Well I used to, but I don’t anymore. My parents made me and I just don’t like church, it’s boring.” And she started singing all these hymns, and praying […] she asked me genuinely, “Why are you helping me here, I’m dying,” and I told her […] ‘I really want to be there for people,’ and I don’t know, she actually got into my head somehow. And so I went to church the next day, it was still very boring, but it was like, I don’t know, she left something with me.”
“We had a resident, her name was Joan, and she had just that day brought in her musical clock, where every hour it played a different song, it was very loud. So every time I came to the room, she was like, ‘Oh, Sarah, press the clock, do the clock.’ Every time I went in the room it was because we had new volunteers coming in, and she was like, ‘Oh, gotta show them my new clock!’ She was really happy about that.”
“In my homes, I had one resident who, he was was pretty uncomfortable and we had to give him his PRNs and his medications and stuff. And he would just, he would like to make these little noises and these little faces and just go ‘Aaahh… so good.’ And he loved the Beatles, Toby loved listening to the Beatles, so one day we just turned it up so the whole house was just playing the Beatles. And we were just sitting there, and we started talking, and it was so great, I could not stop smiling listening to him.”
“[My most memorable moment] was with Linda. She has bone cancer, so all her bones, all her body usually hurts too much, a lot. But she always managed to get out of bed, put on some lipstick, get some curls set. So on one morning shift I got there and she was putting her clothes on, a new sweater, it’s a pink one. And she was putting on lipstick, and she was like, ‘Nikole, could you help me do my curls please?’ I was like, ‘Okay, sure.’ We ended up spending almost a whole shift, four hours, trying to do her curls. And it was amazing.”
“My first resident, he was unconscious most of the time that I was there, but before he died there was… usually there’s like a tear or something from their eye, but I’ll wipe it up with a special rag and fold it up and put it in a box and give it to their family, and it made me smile because it touched them a lot and so that’s it. That’s a good thing. I really like that.”
“We have a resident named Anne right now at the Shepherd home, she’s 69 years old and she really likes video games, which right off the bat was surreal, because I was talking to a hospice patient about Sonic the Hedgehog. But we got talking about Rochester and I asked if she’d lived here long, and she got the biggest smile on her face and said, ‘born and raised’ in such a proud voice, and you know senior year and all that a lot of people are ready to leave Rochester, and so meeting someone who was so genuinely proud to have lived here, just really left an impact on me.”
“So the tattoo that I have is of an ampersand, and it’s partially influenced by the conversations we’ve had in this class, and the ways in which I’ve interacted with residents. It kind of reminds me of what the future could be and of the things I get to hope for, and I have the privilege of hoping for, and the fact that the future isn’t set in stone and I could think about that, and the fact that residences can still crack jokes and be optimistic about tother people, not even just themselves near the ends of their life, I think just makes me optimistic and makes me kind of want to […] be able to follow my dreams. And what I feel is my purpose, kind of in remembrance of that and in honor of that, and honor the fact that even then they were able to find hope, I think I just want to be able to find that hope myself.”
“[…] talking to the residents at the homes… since they’re nearing the end of their life, it’s the perfect t time to share their story, share wisdom they want to pass on. Honestly, it’s really fun hearing what they went through, what they want to tell us, what stories they have.”
“[One resident] was a World War II and Korean War vet. He was still very energetic when he got in, like he was eating loads, he was laughing, he was joking around a lot, he was being loud. Which was honestly really fun, he was really fun to be a round, he was fun to talk to as well.”
“When we were moving [the resident], she couldn’t quite explain how she wanted to be positioned but she said something that was just, it was funny and cute and I’m going to remember it for a long time, she described it as she wanted to look like a hot dog. She wanted pillows on either side of her, but she couldn’t think of the words to say that.”
©2021 The Harley School