For the First Time I Felt Needed

For the First Time I Felt Needed

As a hospice volunteer, Kathy met and cared for Mr. Potts who was a double amputee with declining lung function. She recounts the lessons she learned about embracing differences and connection, finding strength in your heart, and the gift of being present with someone. This is Kathy's story.

As told to Open Caregiving and lightly edited to enhance readability while preserving the author’s voice.

Getting to know the volunteer

Hi, my name is Kathy. I’m a woman from Arizona who is part of the Baby Boomer generation.

What did your life look like when you became a caregiver?

I was in high school, and my school was next to a nursing home. I volunteered at the nursing home and loved it. For the first time in my life, I felt needed. I felt appreciated.

Who did you care for and what prompted their need for care?

At this point, I’m 60 years old and have had a blessed life. I work for a large company that encourages volunteer work and one organization was a hospice. I took the mandatory hours of coursework and was assigned my first patient, who I will never forget.

His name was Mr. Potts, and he could not read. He was a double amputee and his lungs were giving out. I went to his home, which was a beat-up trailer, and would sit with him two afternoons a week. We talked about life, love, God and mistakes he made along the way.

What was a memorable learning?

I learned my greatest strength is my greatest weakness. I have a strong sense of compassion, but that also can cause pain when patients pass.

What surprised you about caregiving?

I learned so much from this man because I was a girl from Brooklyn and he was a man from Arkansas. I was an agnostic, and he was a fundamentalist Christian. We could not be any more different, but I realized how together we really were.

How do you try to balance being a caregiver while caring for yourself?

Hospice offers plenty of self-care courses and I work full time. I make sure to give back to myself.

What resource would you recommend to caregivers?

The best resource is in your heart. Let yourself love, but understand that life is not permanent for anybody.

What advice would you give to caregivers?

You can’t fix anybody on any level, but you can be there and make someone’s life easier.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Mr. Potts had a little dog named Little Bit, a Chihuahua who sadly was living in a cage. When the time came for Mr. Potts to expire, he asked me to find a Little Bit a home. Little Bit is now living in Sedona, Arizona and going kayaking and hiking and enjoying life with one of my best friend’s daughters. It was only after I told Mr. Potts that Little Bit was going to a beautiful home that he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

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