Listening is the greatest gift we can give

Patricia Matthews, longtime Direct Care Volunteer and recipient of the 2020 Special Recognition award, explains: “All persons need to feel that their lives had purpose, and that their time here has mattered. It is an honor to bear witness, to be a keeper of memories, and to be entrusted with patients’ stories.” In her nearly 20 years of service, Patricia has heard many. 

Patricia with FrancisEven though memory loss is a challenge for some patients, hope can come in unexpected places, as it did for Patricia’s patient Francis. He could never remember Patricia’s name, but he knew that she visited regularly, and called her “my faithful Friday visitor.” 

Having lost some 50 years of memories – including those of his marriage and children – he still enjoyed sharing stories of his life growing up in Holland and his journey to the U.S. Patricia took Francis on a virtual walking tour of his hometown in Holland, and he was able to find his home, his father’s bakery, and his school. “He was so delighted,” says Patricia. “He thought it was magic!”

Patricia is fluent in French and Italian, and she loves it when she can share her Italian heritage with her patients. “Sometimes we travel to their countries via books, scrapbooks, family albums, or the iPad. Sometimes I bring a particular food, or we listen together to opera. Both food and music can be evocative and can bring back meaningful memories.”

One of Patricia’s patients, a lovely Italian woman in her 90s, asked Patricia where her family was from. “I told her she would never have heard of it, although it was close to Lucca. I said the name of the village. She put her hands to her cheeks, and tears came to her eyes. It was the village where her father had come from – my grandparents must have known him!”

Another Italian patient, Clara, lived to celebrate her 100th birthday. Patricia says Clara “was an inspiration because she chose joy each day. She embraced life, and did not look at what she had lost, but at what she still had.”

One day, Patricia mentioned to Clara that she and her husband were planning a trip to Italy. “When Clara casually mentioned how wonderful it might be if I went to visit her family, I had to do it.”

Without knowing just which bakery was owned by Clara’s family, Patricia and her husband somehow found it – and were immediately embraced and kissed, as Clara was the beloved matriarch of the family. “They gave us pastries and we shared an aperitivo. It was such a special opportunity for all of us.”

“Being a hospice volunteer has given me some of the richest moments of shared humanity in the most intimate of deep physical and spiritual moments one could ever imagine,” says Patricia. “It is an honor and a privilege to accompany a patient on the last part of their journey in this life.”  

To learn more about volunteering with Mission Hospice, join us for an online info meeting on March 23, 2021.