Hospice volunteer Paul Smith shares simple pleasures, offers a gentle presence
Paul Smith has long been drawn to the continuum of life and death. “I don’t separate the two,” he says. “It’s all life.” So when he learned about hospice work, he says, “I knew it was something I wanted to get involved with. The area around end of life is a place where I feel I belong.”
Since completing our volunteer training in 2005, Paul has been a gentle, supportive presence by the side of nearly 100 patients and families. His compassion and intuition make him the kind of volunteer who reaches people in special ways.
“When I first met Paul,” says Mission Hospice LVN Gabrielle Jimenez, “I watched him sit in total silence with an actively dying patient who was very much alone. Even though the two of them sat there without words, the room felt full and the patient was peaceful.”
Paul spends hours each week sitting with patients, talking or simply being present. “What I like about this time of life,” Paul explains, “is that you cut through all the stuff that really doesn’t matter.”
In January, the Peninsula Health Care District honored Paul with a Volunteer of the Year award. Always humble, he immediately turns the praise to others. “Whatever good I do here,” he says, “I am just a thimbleful of good in an ocean of more good.”
Despite his protestations, he has made profound connections to patients and families. When Paul met hospice patient Doris Gregus, she had little interest in doing anything other than watching TV.
“As we approach end of life, simple pleasures become so pronounced. I like to live with that in mind day to day,” Paul says. “I shared a simple pleasure in my life with Doris – Japanese mango milk tea. She instantly loved it, and this became a precious simple pleasure for us to share.”
Doris and Paul shared those milk teas twice a week. That time together eventually led Doris to confide her fears about dying – something she hadn’t been able to discuss with anyone else. (Hear Paul talk about their special connection in this video.)
Paul’s calm nature and ability to be fully present carries into other parts of his life. He meditates daily, and is writing a book to help others learn the practice. He’s also a specialty woodworker, creating custom sculptures, furniture, and architectural pieces.
“Paul is one of the most unselfish people I have ever met,” says Gabrielle. “As a hospice nurse, I cannot imagine doing this job without him.”
“Being at the edge of life is everything I thought it would be,” Paul says. “When you’re holding someone’s hand as they take their last breath, it’s a most profound experience. It’s a time of deep respect and awe.”