Ed Colòn has been a companion to many Our Lady of Peace Hospice patients over his five years as a volunteer. And, every person he has listened to, calmed, and comforted is easy for him to recall because he says, “Being present with another human being in their final days and hours is meaningful.” This became clear to Ed after experiencing the death of his first child at age 7, following a long-term chronic illness. He said, “As difficult as it was to go through it, I was surprised by how beautiful and peaceful it was, and it made me curious as to whether it is this way for everyone.” Although Ed has not been present with any of his patients when they passed, he has spent countless hours at their side, so they didn’t feel alone.
Helping a patient through delirium
When Ed first became a hospice volunteer, he was assigned to a man in our hospice residence. When he went to visit, the man was very distressed. He kept trying to tear his pajamas off and seemed to be in anguish. Ed said, “It wasn’t easy to watch. I tried holding his hand and playing music, but nothing worked. I realized that it was hot and stuffy in his room, so I took him outside on a perfect summer night and pushed his wheelchair around the garden and talked to him until he fell asleep, peacefully. I later discovered that I had supported him through delirium, something that can happen when a person approaches death. The man’s daughter later told me that her father died peacefully right after I left that night. I only spent an hour and a half with him, but I knew I had helped him.”
Community and Residential Hospice
Dividing his time between OLP hospice communities and the residential hospice has given Ed a variety of experiences. He has visited patients once a week for many months in the community and sometimes just one time in the residential home, prior to their passing. He says, “In the community, I’m journeying with them, accompanying them through the whole process, and helping them adapt to the idea of dying. I bring companionship and get to know them well.”
Providing long-term companionship
Ed once visited a patient for over four months in the community, and stayed with him when he eventually moved to the residence. “We went on walks, did art, read books, and prayed together. He was someone who had a lot of fear of death and didn’t want to talk about it, but when it popped up, I took the opportunity to talk with him about it. Most of his family was out of state, so I spent more time with him than anyone. I was with him more frequently when he was actively dying. I was there every day and overnight, sleeping in the recliner at the residence until his family flew in.”
Comforting dementia patients
Patients with dementia require an extra layer of compassion, and it’s harder to build a relationship, especially if they’re verbalizing things that don’t make sense. Ed says, “I don’t believe that what they are saying is nonsensical because it makes sense to them. My goal in this situation is to figure out what period of their life they are living in at that moment, and how can I engage them within that setting, so we can have a normal exchange. This is important because loneliness is doubled or tripled in people with dementia.”
Ed says he has discovered that it’s hard to be alone when you’re dying. “Dying is hard for everybody and talking about it is largely avoided in our culture, due to the fear and denial that surrounds it. When I meet patients, they are anywhere on that spectrum, so it’s a journey to help prepare them psychologically, spiritually, and physically. I bring companionship, so they are not alone.”
Becoming a volunteer
Ed believes the biggest barrier to hospice volunteering is a person’s own fear of what they will say to people. “They think they need to say something wise or therapeutic, but that’s not what they need. They just need a human being to be present with sincere compassion in the final hours when everything is stripped away.
Ed says it’s important for volunteers to realize that the reason you’re there is death. “I’m not a social volunteer. My role is to explicitly and intentionally accompany dying people on the journey, and I never lose sight of that. I’ve never gone through an intense grieving process after losing a patient, but rather feel grateful because it was a great privilege to accompany them during the last stage of their life.
Ed, thank you for your service and compassion for OLP patients.