Group Writing: A 30-Second Phone Call

 

Several months ago, I wrote a post about my latest volunteer work for Cornerstone Hospice: making bereavement calls to check in on the people who were left behind, and I was a bit nervous about it. After all, to one degree or another, these people were experiencing grief and loss, and the last thing I wanted to do was to increase their suffering.

I had two possible ways to communicate with them. If I reached them on the phone, I would ask permission to ask a handful of questions about how they were doing; by asking them, I put them in charge of our discussion. Although I anticipated that the conversation might be trying, I found that I could trust my instincts, and although some people were quite reserved, others opened up and shared the life and death experience with their loved one. Some conversations were brief, and others were extended and very sweet.

Instead of the conversation being the hardest part of connecting with the bereaved, however, I found that leaving a voicemail was even harder than I had expected. In only 20 or 30 seconds, I wanted to make those moments comforting and helpful. I wanted to sound authentic and not like a recording. I wanted to sound sincere and empathetic.  I wanted to communicate my genuine care for them.

So, although my voicemails are all similar in content, I try to connect with the idea that I am talking to someone’s son, daughter, wife, husband, or child. I think that helps me leave the kind of message that will connect to the person. I introduce myself and who I represent, and who I was hoping to reach. I assure the person in a calm voice that my purpose is to see how they are doing following the loss of his or her loved one (and I name the relationship). Then I acknowledge that I’ve missed them, but that at the very least I’d like to leave a telephone number the person can call to speak to a bereavement counselor if the person thinks it would be helpful. (I always want them to know that they are the best judge of that decision.) I always struggle with how to end my message, but again, I try to trust my instincts.

I realize that these folks have no idea who I am. But I’d like to think that I have a sense of who they are.

I want to be a person who brings them a moment of kindness and comfort.

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There are 11 comments.

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  1. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Have you ever encountered in your calls someone who was glad the old so-and-so was gone?

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    Have you ever encountered in your calls someone who was glad the old so-and-so was gone?

    Oh no! They might imply that the patient was demanding at the end (not unusual) or that they were very old, so the family was ready (which I would expect at age 99 or 100), but no one has said anything like that. At least, not yet!

    • #2
  3. Allan Rutter Member
    Allan Rutter
    @AllanRutter

    Susan, what a gift you are giving to those who get your voice mail. They will be able to tell from your voice and carefully crafted and tailored words that this is an important message not a sales call. Whether or not they call you back, I would bet money on the fact that they will listen to the message again and again, like smoothing the stones on a rosary or clutching a cross necklace. Your message will be a precious ministry. Thanks for making the commitment to make the calls, to push beyond your reluctance and be the hands and feet of angels to those who need to know they are not alone or forgotten. God will richly reward each and every message you leave.

    • #3
  4. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    Have you ever encountered in your calls someone who was glad the old so-and-so was gone?

    Yeah, like me. I was very polite to the hospice lady who called when my mother died, and I did not tell her how happy I was that the wicked witch was gone. And I was suffering from a bad case of Coxsackie virus which made talking difficult. 
    I’m sure Susan is just wonderful at her bereavement voicemails. 

    • #4
  5. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    What a beautiful service you are performing Susan.  When I experience loss, I appreciate every call, every note or expression of condolence and am filled with love and gratitude towards those who make them. 

    • #5
  6. JoshuaFinch Coolidge
    JoshuaFinch
    @JoshuaFinch

    You’re a true tzadeket*, Susan.

    *female tzadik

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Allan Rutter (View Comment):

    Susan, what a gift you are giving to those who get your voice mail. They will be able to tell from your voice and carefully crafted and tailored words that this is an important message not a sales call. Whether or not they call you back, I would bet money on the fact that they will listen to the message again and again, like smoothing the stones on a rosary or clutching a cross necklace. Your message will be a precious ministry. Thanks for making the commitment to make the calls, to push beyond your reluctance and be the hands and feet of angels to those who need to know they are not alone or forgotten. God will richly reward each and every message you leave.

    Allan, thank you so much for your articulate and sweet reaction. I am truly touched. That my efforts provide a fraction of the solace that you describe . . . 

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    JoshuaFinch (View Comment):

    You’re a true tzadeket*, Susan.

    *female tzadik

    Oh my goodness. Thank you, Joshua. I’m humbled.

    • #8
  9. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    I know this isn’t exactly what you are doing, but sometimes, the best person a family can lean on is someone who pulls no punches.

    When my father passed away, he was living in a retirement home and it was clear that he needed more support.  I arranged for a nurse from Hospice care to come and talk to my brothers and I about the options.  She talked to us first about what the hospice could offer and then went in to see our father. When she came out, she told us that she didn’t think he would last the weekend.  At the time, it seemed pretty brutal compared with the “silk and roses” image of hospice, but it was what we needed to hear.

    When my older brother died after multiple experimental cancer treatments, it was clear that the treatments were failing.  He was basically asleep, but at one point, his breathing changed and I asked the head nurse to take a look.  She took me aside and explained how the next hour or so would go.  Like with my father, the nurse didn’t sugar coat anything and it was good to know what to expect.

    I have often thought of both situations with gratitude, but the circumstances didn’t really allow me to thank those who helped.

    I guess what I am trying -poorly, I’m afraid – to say is that at a time like that, having someone with experience and sympathy clearly explain the options and support which is available is a great help even if we aren’t in a position to clearly express our appreciation.

    what you are doing is a gift, even when it may not be acknowledged. 

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    WillowSpring (View Comment):
    I guess what I am trying -poorly, I’m afraid – to say is that at a time like that, having someone with experience and sympathy clearly explain the options and support which is available is a great help even if we aren’t in a position to clearly express our appreciation.

    You have just expressed your appreciation beautifully–just now. Too often families are in denial, and they postpone hospice care which can provide so very many benefits, including medical staff, palliative care and even a chaplain. They are afraid that the patient will realize he or she is dying. Trust me, they either know that or you won’t be able to penetrate their denial.  Most of the time families call in hospice far later than they could–or should. It’s such a loss for everyone involved.

    • #10
  11. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    This post is part of our Group Writing Series under the August 2022 Group Writing Theme: “Short and Sweet or Sour, Maybe Spicy.” We still have a couple open days. Stop by to sign up and share your own short observations. Also, the September theme is up: “Constitutional.”

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #11
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