By Lisa Hoskins
There’s no better way to understand what’s it’s like to be a volunteer at The Center than to provide services in the role of volunteer. All of our staff occasionally provide volunteer services either by having a one-on-one match to visit or support a care receiver in their home or by giving rides to medical appointments or basic needs rides. While we learn a lot about the volunteer experience when we do this, the bigger benefits are the friendships we develop with our care receiver clients.
I’ve had the privilege of working with two families in our caregiver respite program for several years. Sadly, one of my care receivers, Adrien, recently passed away. This is the first time I have personally lost a care receiver with whom I had a close friendship. Death is not uncommon and, in fact, expected when the population you serve is at the older end of life. But that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens. I wanted to share my reflections on this experience because it might resonate with our volunteers who have lost a care receiver. We often do not have the opportunity to process these losses as fully as we should, and it may be hard to convey to others what effect this loss has on us.
I chose to visit with Adrien for several reasons; she lived close to me, and she was so interesting! She was an artist and caterer. As I got to know her, we really clicked and enjoyed talking throughout our visits together while her husband got away for a much-needed caregiver break. We discussed current events, travel, cooking, birds, and nature. Our relationship wasn’t social worker and care receiver, it was friends. There was a comfortableness that developed. I shared and I learned about her rich life, her family, friends, and community, the people in her story. And I, in turn, became part of that story too.
Adrien and her husband, Jorge, were always thoughtful. When my father died in February of 2022, I called Adrien to tell her ahead of our visit that week. I didn’t just want to spring that on her. When I arrived, they had gotten me a boutique of fresh flowers. They always had fresh flowers in their home arranged on the coffee table for Adrien to enjoy. For Christmas, she wanted me to have a hummingbird feeder just like the one her son gave her. She had thought of me as we loved watching the birds together during our visits. She had a perfect view of all her bird feeders, and we would remark on the various birds, the woodpeckers, cardinals, and hummingbirds that would zip by. Her gift was particularly meaningful to me as the hummingbird has become, in my mind, my dad’s spirit animal and always reminds me of him. She did not know the significance of that gift, but I was deeply touched. Now, this will always be a reminder of her as well.
I saw her decline over the years with various health events. When I saw her the week before she died, it had been a while since we’d been together because she had been sick and I had been out of town on vacation. On that visit, I could see a big change in her. She was now on oxygen and more subdued than I had ever seen her. Normally Adrien was a force with colorful stories, opinions, and updates. She had been working on her second book. Her first book was an alphabet book with each letter representing someone significant in her life. She had painted a caricature of each person with unique details. Her second book was a story about a cow which she had written and was in the process of illustrating. I am so very thankful that I got to see her that day as she died three days later. I would have been even more upset if I had not had that time with her.
Without my role at The Center, I would have never become friends with Adrien and her family. This relationship and these visits grew more and more meaningful to me over the two and a half years that I visited with her. When I take a moment to really consider this, I recognize and appreciate what a profound gift this was. It reinforces the great importance of the work we do. Fostering connections with those in our community who are often unseen and forgotten and who we likely would not interact with otherwise. These connections benefit everyone. It’s not just what we can do for that person but how we allow ourselves to open and grow. It helps our well-being and makes us better. Every moment of our volunteer time really does matter. It’s all about the simple act of showing up both literally and figuratively.
I will really miss my visits with Adrien, sitting on the couch with her dog Woody, and catching up. I am so very grateful for this experience.
If you’d like to read more about Adrien, you can read her lovely tribute here: https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/heraldsun/name/adrien-montoya-obituary?id=52685680
Lisa Hoskins, LCSW, is the Caregiver Support Manager at The Center for Volunteer Caregiving. She has worked with The Center since June 2020.
(Photo of Adrien)