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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.Published in