Volunteer Testimonial – Alberta
Channelling Love and Grief
If someone had told me three and half years ago how a volunteer position would forever change my life, I would have thought they had fallen out of a tree and landed wrong side up.
In the summer of 2004, I was barely coping with the collapse of my 34-year marriage and struggling with the agony that a lifelong friend had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. At the same time, I was inexplicably driven to step out of my comfort zone and search for a way to make a difference in someone else’s life.
With my friend rejecting my desire to support her, telling me she didn’t want to ‘watch me, watch her die,’ I was dismissed from her time left on earth. My children were grown and had left my nest. I had an abundance of anxiety-induced energy that needed to be spent. I needed to do something meaningful for someone else; to make a difference. An article in our city newspaper asking for volunteers led me to our local Victims’ Assistance Unit.
After what can only be described as a six-month training frenzy, I was considered equipped to provide support, information and referrals to victims of crime and tragedy. Many, many times I asked what I had gotten myself into. But I was driven forward with the absolute certainty that this was what I was meant to do. I trusted that the skills to communicate empathy, support and understanding would be there when I needed them.
I have been witness to the horror, tragedy, and loss that knows no socio-economic or socio-cultural boundaries. I was the one intended to give to others, and yet, it has backfired. I have been given and learned so much. I have learned how strong people are in the face of adversity and strife. I have learned not to make assumptions based on my life experience, because I invariably will be mistaken. I have learned that it isn’t so much what I say, as my physical presence that is the most helpful.
I have learned to listen and to allow victims the time to verbalize their experience, which is often the first step in healing. I have learned that situations can be complex yet simple; humbling yet powerful; tedious and, at times, even exciting. I have felt the incredible satisfaction when I know without a doubt that something I have said or done has made a difference.
I have sat with the grieving parents of a three-year old boy, who was still lying in his bed upstairs waiting to be transported to the funeral home. I have held in my arms the mother who arrived home from work to be told by police that her teenage son had just committed suicide by gun. I have spoken with a Boy Scout troop of 6-8-year olds, whose leader had been murdered. I have attempted to find words of comfort for a houseful of friends and their parents, when a teenage boy was brutally murdered at a house party.
I have addressed teachers, students and parents at schools where a student died as the result of an accident. I have reassured two young children who had been held at gunpoint in a neighbourhood house by older boys who threatened their lives while they sat on a sofa with pillows in front of their faces, believing this would stop bullets. I have visited victims of domestic abuse in emergency wards. I have sat and held the hand of a senior citizen who has just suffered the loss of her husband after 55 years of marriage and doesn’t know how she’ll go on.
I have watched the face of a young boy light up with pride and relief when I handed him a very special Teddy bear wearing a sweater with the police crest on it that is given to only the very bravest citizens, because he chose to tell an adult when a situation at home was unsafe for him and his Mom. I have felt the satisfaction and relief when the mother of this boy called a few days later and left a message saying what a huge difference this made to her son.
That’s why I do what I do. There is a noble feeling that comes from the satisfaction this work brings and the opportunity to help another; remembering that ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’. It is truly an honour to be invited into someone’s life during their darkest hours to offer what solace and comfort I can.
My lifelong friend’s wish to not ‘watch me, watch her die’ was fulfilled and she passed away in the summer of 2006 with only a telephone conversation between us a few weeks before. I know in my heart she has come to know that I channelled my love and grief for her in ways neither of us could have ever imagined.
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