Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Volunteering Isn't Always Easy

For those of you who don't know, I volunteer with the local Humane Society.  Each month, I choose a dog, and take it to a local care center to interact with the residents.  Over the years, I've gotten to know some of the residents, and have come to look forward to my monthly visit.  Today, I found out that my all-time favorite resident, Cindy, passed away.

The first time I met Cindy, she was in a motorized wheelchair, sitting quietly in her room, watching TV.  When I walked into the room with the dog, her face lit up with a great, beautiful smile.  She had a very difficult time talking, but managed to ask me a few questions about the dog... it's name, age, breed, gender and so forth.  Her body was giving out on her, but her mind and her spirit were indomitable, and I quickly became fond of her.

Over the next who-knows-how-many months, I got to know her more and more.  In the grand scheme of things, I didn't know her as well as her long time friends, but that didn't matter.  We always took some time to chat about nothing.  I remember one time in particular, I noticed that she had mud all over the wheels of her wheelchair.  I asked her if she'd been off-roading in the chair.  She grinned, laughed and said "Yeah."

I said something along the lines of "Keep it under control, you know that thing's not a Jeep," and she laughed some more.  It was wonderful, bringing some humor to her day.  The next visit, I brought her a bumper sticker that said "Jeep Girl," which she had affixed to the back of her wheelchair.

In another visit, I met her husband, who was visiting with her.  I introduced myself as "the guy who flirts with your wife when you're not around," and we all smiled and laughed... Cindy especially.  Her husband knew that I was ever-so-slightly serious, but took things in stride.  He knew who Cindy loved.

There were several months during this time that I didn't get to see Cindy, because she was out and about on field trips with her husband, or with other residents from the care center.  Every time that happened, I had mixed feelings.  I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get to see my favorite resident, but was also happy that she was getting out and about.

A couple of months ago, she got a computer that helped her speak, kind of like what Stephen Hawking has.  Oddly enough, I was there for a visit a day or two after she got it.  Cindy was definitely excited about the idea of the machine, but she still spoke to me directly.  Next month was the same thing.  I asked her if it had the same voice as Stephen Hawking's machine, and she told me that it had a woman's voice.  I threatened to change the voice to Barry White while she wasn't paying attention, and we had another grand laugh about that.

Over the months, we developed a friendship.  I always spent a little more time with her than the other residents, and somewhere along the line, she was happy to see me... I was no longer just the guy who brought the dogs.  Her room was the last room in the rotation, and it was great to end the visit with her.

As today's visit came to the end, I was once again looking forward to seeing Cindy.  I was quite surprised to see someone else in Cindy's room.  On the way back, I asked Chris, the activities director, if Cindy had gone home.  "She passed away," he replied.  I almost cried.  I've almost cried several times between then and now.

When I decided to do this volunteer work, I knew that I would get attached to a few residents, and I knew that I would be sad upon hearing that some of them had passed.  It was, and still is, my firm belief that my sadness in these instances is insignificant compared to the happiness that I can potentially bring the residents during my monthly visits.

That doesn't make today's news suck any less.