Whenever I tell people I’m a hospice volunteer, they usually respond with strong empathy for the difficult and sad work I must be doing. They also imply that I'm close to sainthood for even doing it. This always amuses me because I don’t find hospice volunteering difficult or sad. In fact, most days are pretty upbeat with challenges that are usually interesting. I’m a regular person doing what everybody can do in their own ways, and that is service.
Humor has a lot do do with the kinds of interactions my patients and I share. People say I'm funny, but my terminally ill patients are often funnier, not only with me, but with others with whom they have contact. A very engaging patient remembered many hilarious stories about her life. Some days she’d just reminisce and have us both cracking up, especially when she talked about the bear chasing her in circles around her house. A male patient and his roommates teased one another so much, it was unlimited laughter every time I visited. Did I mention the two ladies having a pretend fight from their wheelchairs? Oh, and the bedside birthday party with a menu of fried chicken livers, red velvet cake, and ice cream was another winner!
A study on hospice and humor in “The American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care” revealed that humor was present in 85 percent of 132 observed nurse-based hospice visits. The real clincher is that hospice patients initiated humor 70 percent of the time, regardless of the hospice setting. Reflecting my own hospice experiences, this study confirms that many of the terminally ill continue to maintain a comic state of mind. And that’s no joke!