Say What Needs To Be Said

When I tell people that I volunteer at hospice, I get one of two replies:

  • I could never do that; or
  • It’s a good thing that you’re doing.

Most hospice patients are at home, so the majority of volunteers are working in the field. Of the 300 patients that might be on a current census, only 8-10 will be at the Care Center operated by the group.

My field work falls into the categories of respite, light housekeeping, day trips and errands. Volunteers also help with companionship, comfort touch, meal prep, massage and life review. The field work is usually easy – guidelines limit what a volunteer can do and we’re able to opt out at anytime.

As you’re working solo in the field, it can be a little lonely. The group recognizes that aspect and holds monthly volunteer connection meetings. I haven’t made it to any of these meetings. Being “alone” is a pleasure for me.

In addition to the field work, there’s a Care Center. Patients are admitted to the Care Center for family respite, to get medications sorted (usually pain/nausea/agitation) or, if they don’t want to die at home.

What surprised you? The biggest surprise is how little I’m working with dead people. Before I started, the team emphasized that a lot of living happens on hospice. They were right. 99% of my time is with living patients and I have the freedom to opt out of the 1%.

Are the dying in constant pain? At the bottom of my fear of death lies unknowable and uncontrollable pain. Working at the acute end of hospice care, I was surprised that there wasn’t more suffering. To be clear, I have seen true suffering but it is less than 5% of all patient interactions. Young people dying of cancer and patients dying after being on a feeding tube have been the most emotionally challenging.

Isn’t hospice about giving up? I sense that many families see hospice care as pushing a person towards death. With my grandmother, most of our family (myself included) wasn’t willing to consider hospice (so Nana died at a palliative care ward). Watching the team, what’s emphasized is:

  • Optimizing the time that remains
  • Putting the patient and family in control
  • Ensuring dignity & comfort.

As well, there is a strong network within the grief services team to help the survivors continue living.

Don’t postpone joy. I’ve shared laughter with people that are close to death. This has been a valuable lesson for my unnecessary attachment to being “miserable.” Always stay open to happiness.

Every generation needs a caregiver. Volunteering at a care center is free training in an environment that can be “scary.” It’s only taken three months for my boundaries to be reset. As a parent, there is (now) nothing that my kids can produce that will freak me out. My sick kids, and their diapers, have been put into a better perspective.

Tips to conquer fear. The group does an excellent job managing their volunteers. I noticed:

  • Everything is optional
  • Responsibility for outcome is removed – that lies with the professional team
  • Acceptance of mistakes – I don’t always say the right thing but that’s OK
  • However, clear boundaries are established to prevent serious mistakes (no medical care, no feeding, no giving of medicines).
  • The above show me the difference I can make by helping with “small” things. Listening to a spouse, taking out the trash, sorting laundry, refilling inventory… I’ve experienced deep gratitude from little acts of kindness.

If you feel the calling then follow it. There’s tremendous value to you and your community.

Within the constraint of “do no harm,” say what needs to be said.


If you’re interested in more reading:

Letter To My Kids

Sitting here at 45 years old, I realize that my kids (5, 2.5 and 1.25 yrs old) will never know the man that I am today.

What can I pass along today that might be useful to them tomorrow?



Don’t waste energy worrying about decisions. Most of the choices that you will face are win-win in nature.

  • The school you attend.
  • The major you choose.
  • The clothes you wear.
  • The company where you work.
  • The city where you live.

The above influence our lives but they aren’t mission critical.

What’s mission critical? Well, there are some choices that have life changing properties.

Choices that move us away from severely negative outcomes.

An obvious example is “stay out of prison” – drunk driving, chronic speeding and theft have a high risk of a felony conviction.

More subtlety, the best decision that I made in my 20s/30s was replacing drinking with exercise. At the time, I replaced one excess (drinking) with another (elite endurance sport). If you find that you’re obsessive (and many people in our family are) then replace your negative habit (promiscuity, alcohol, addiction, anger) with something less toxic (meditation, nutrition, exercise, yoga, work).

You’re unlikely to be able to transcend your drive. That’s OK. If you can get yourself into your 40s without too many mistakes then your body will naturally slow and you’ll find it much easier to live in your skin.

In our family, moving away from abuse, addition and promiscuity has been a way for us to improve life for everyone that follows us.


Your Relationship With The Truth

I can catch myself wishing that you’ll be doctors, leaders and externally successful. To the extent that I lay any of that on you know that I’m projecting my own values.

What’s most important?

Remember that truth is relative and pay attention to:

  1. How do the people around you make you feel?
  2. Are you tempted to lie because of your actions, your friends or your work?

Who, and what, ever your become, I promise that you’ll see the world differently at 30, 45, 60, 75 and 90 years old.

So what endures across time?

  • Taking action for what you believe in.
  • The internal peace that comes from living truly, inside ourselves.

Be aware the certain fields have a high risk for poor decisions. I’ve worked in a couple (finance and elite sport).

How will you know if there are risks? Pay attention to the lies. You will see lies in others before you start telling them to yourself. Small lies matter because they can be a symptom of corruption that you’re unable to see.

It will be a huge hassle to change direction when you discover lies – it always was for me. However, it’s the right thing for you to do. Ask me for stories and I’ll share.

Move away from people and situations where you can’t speak openly about the truth.


Exercise Is Medicine

You have a body that is a high-responder to exercise.

Do something active every day of your life and stop doing whatever prevents you from achieving a daily streak of exercise.

Taking my advice from the start of the letter… Don’t worry about what you do.

Remember that the benefit comes from the doing.