The Hard Side of Volunteering for Hospice – it’s Not What You Think

Before I moved to Maryland from Ohio two years ago, I volunteered giving Reiki at The Cleveland Clinic, and The Gathering Place (a support center for people touched by cancer). Adding volunteer time to my life has been a wonderful and fulfilling activity. I get to know people, and do something really helpful, for which I feel so grateful. 

After moving to Maryland, I sought out volunteer opportunities where I could offer Reiki. I found JSSA Hospice, and they welcomed me. I’ve been a volunteer at for JSSA for a year now. I am assigned patients, go to them where they are living, and give them Reiki once a week. It’s been a very meaningful experience, and I’m really glad to have the opportunity to do this work. 

Lately, though, in my hospice volunteer position, I’ve been seeing patients who are, basically, “in limbo.” They’re not actively dying. They’re not really “living” either. It’s a tougher experience. 

See, some of my patients before were basically ok, considering their diagnosis. They’ve been diagnosed with 6 months or fewer to live, and are still capable of having a conversation, and telling me where it hurts, and how the Reiki helps. We’ve laughed together sometimes, and really enjoyed our time. 

Other patients, (or eventually, the same ones) were actively dying. I know how to help these people with Reiki too. The Reiki energy helps them feel more peaceful, breathe deeper, have less pain, and relax. Even if they can’t tell me, I can observe that the Reiki is helping.

My current patients are not in either situation. They are caught between worlds. They don’t speak, and rarely open their eyes. Their care and feeding are 100% done by the nurses and other staff. They don’t seem aware of my presence, and don’t respond to my words. I can’t tell how the Reiki is helping. I come, greet them, give Reiki, search their faces and bodies for signs of relaxation, or anything at all. It doesn’t usually seem evident.  

I’m struggling with this, because part of me is berating myself for wishing for some sort of reaction. “This isn’t about me,” my inner voice tells me. “I don’t need to observe a reaction or receive a ‘thank you’ to know that I’m doing something that matters. This is for my patients. It’s not important whether it’s a nice time for me.” 

I have given Reiki to many people with cancer, and wished that the Reiki could make them better. I have learned that it’s not about what I want. However, I do see that the Reiki is relieving pain and bringing a sense of peace and relaxation that is very helpful for them. So, in that way I can see some benefits happening, which helps. (Helps who? The patient, of course, but I think I’m really talking about it helping me. Helping me what? Helping me be reassured that I’m doing something that matters. Why do I need this? Don’t I know that I matter? Isn’t that an interesting chain of questions!)

This experience is different though – I can’t tell that it’s making a difference. I need to rely on my trust in Reiki, and my experiences giving Reiki to people who can tell or show me that it helps, to reassure me that what I’m doing is helping. This time, it’s about having faith. Faith has always been difficult for me without the direct experience to confirm it. Even years of being a Reiki practitioner, and getting tons of positive feedback doesn’t prepare me well for this. It still requires me to “just believe.” 

I know that my past experiences have proven to me that Reiki works. I don’t need to know how it works. I don’t need to know what it’s doing. I’m past that. 

I remind myself that I make a difference, every day. I matter. My words of love, my giving of time, my gifts of healing, they matter. 

Even by doing nothing, I matter. We all matter. Living matters because we all matter. Every life matters, and I know this. I know it in my soul. So, I do find it interesting that I need to sit and type this out to remind myself of what I’ve been teaching.

So, at these hospice visits, I take a deep breath. I show up. I say hello. I offer Reiki. I ask for peace and healing, for the highest and best, and I thank the Universe, my Guides and Angels, and Spirit for the ability to be of service.

And so it is. 

Reiki Awakening Reiki blog by Alice Langholt