Hospice: Telling People I See Their Butts

By Piper Bayard

Someone recently asked me what I do as a Hospice volunteer, and I told her that basically, it’s my job to tell people I see their butts.

Hospice is a service dedicated to providing people with the most comfortable death possible. We tend to physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients who usually have less than six months to live. We call ourselves midwives because each of us has felt that overlap between this life and the next as heaven opens to receive its newest child.

image by I. Craig, wikimedia commons

When I first told my friends I was training for Hospice, I got a number of reactions.

1. Uhmm . . . Better you than me.

2.  Wow. I could never do that.

3.  She’s such a Drama Queen that should be perfect for her. (Said behind my back by a catty belly dancer and passed on to me by another catty belly dancer.)

Most often, though, I got a mystified look and a disbelieving shake of the head with the question, “Why?”

The smartass answer? Because it’s easier to deal with dying people than with my teens. Dying people are a temporary commitment, but my teens want to hang out on my couch and eat my groceries forever.

The real answer? Because when my mother was dying, I was all she had. Since my children were young, I couldn’t be with her at the nursing home more than a few hours a day. I really wished someone could sit with her when I couldn’t. So after she died, I realized that was something I could give to someone else.

One thing I’ve learned from my work is that dying people tell the best stories. They are a hoot. I’ll be talking with a woman who looks like the quintessential grandma. You know, the kind that bakes cakes that really do look like Thomas the Tank Engine and flinches at the word “sex” because she couldn’t possibly have ever had it. No grandma ever has, right?

So I’ll be talking to this grandma with wise eyes and perfectly coiffed hair, except for that messy spot that mushes up against her pillow, and she will tell me some crazy stories from the youth her family never knew she had. She thought she was so smart at fourteen, smoking in the bathroom and blowing it out the window, until she opened the door to find her father standing there. She stole away from home at seventeen to elope with a boy, only to jump out of the car at the Washita bridge in the middle of the night and run all the way home, still single. At forty, she and her friend got a wild hair one day and did a “Thelma and Louise” cross-country, but without the flying leap at the end. Ten days later, their husbands both took them back.

image from “Thelma and Louise”

And then there are the other stories. How her mother and father stopped speaking after that night he came home so late, and the family grew cold and distant. How she regretted not marrying that man she left at the Washita bridge. How her husband didn’t really die of a heart attack like she always told the world, but that he committed suicide, and she never knew why.

As humans, we have a deep need to say, “Yes. I was here. Did you see me?” We need to know we did not grow and bloom and die in a vacuum. We need validation, because parts of us are like our butts. We can’t see our butts. We may feel them, but we need a mirror or a friend to tell us what they look like. As a Hospice volunteer, I give people the gift of letting them know I see their butts. Yes. Those parts of you are here, and I see you.

Today, I’m dedicating this blog to Teri Parks, who was born into a new life almost a month ago. She loved to laugh. Not only was she the best Mrs. Claus ever, but she also threw the social event of the season every 4th of July with a dozen fried turkeys, bubble-blowing guns, horseshoes, music, and 150 of her closest friends. The world is a little colder with her passing.

When I went to visit her on her last day, she had the greatest blessing a soul can earn in this life. A room full of loving family and friends, talking and laughing and remembering with her, confirming for her that, yes. She was here, and they saw her. All of her. And she was beautiful.

Do you have witness in your life who tells you they see your butt? Do you do that for someone else?

All the best to all of you for a week of validation.

76 comments on “Hospice: Telling People I See Their Butts

  1. Wow! Piper! I don’t think I knew that you volunteered at hospice, but it doesn’t surprise me. You’ve had my back(side) since I landed here. If you know what I mean.

    Hospice work is noble. And I am fortunate to have people in real life you have my butt. What a fitting metaphor.

    Thanks for all you do, Piper.

  2. susielindau says:

    Such a great post! Your title had me thinking something completely different. My grandmas wouldn’t have said the word “butt!” Times have changed!
    Your point is well taken and I hope that I am seeing many butts in my life!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I actually thought about that, Susie, but I suspect a fair number of those grandmas actually do say “butt” when no one they’re setting an example for is looking so I left it in. And I have no doubt you’re getting your fair share of butt peeps. 🙂

      • susielindau says:

        I am! And my grandmother would be 110 years old if she were alive today. She was in whole other generation!

        • Piper Bayard says:

          I hadn’t thought about it, but my grandmother would have been 110 also, and like you say, a whole other generation. I remember being so very shocked once when she said, “Damn.” It was out of character, but she was seriously angry.

  3. Piper, thank you. We did for my dad what Teri’s family did for her. We gathered around him, telling stories, remembering how the cat used to attack the postman, things that reminded him, he wouldn’t be forgotten. It has been three years and I still remember him worrying about the chickens. Thank you, Piper, for reminding us that yes, we all can see butts.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Wow, Shellie. Your dad must have been a wonderful man to have so much loving family with him. And I would love to hear about the cat attacking the postman sometime.

  4. donnagalanti says:

    How lovely you do this! Hospice nurses helped me care for my mom in her final weeks…they are a special people. I couldnt have done all I did for my mom without them showing me how. There is something tender and beautiful of caring for someone, especially someone you dearly love, as they make the passage out of this world.We need more volunteers like you!

  5. Rob Mahan says:

    Piper, I see you well.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thank you, Rob. *closes drapes* 🙂

      • Rob Mahan says:

        LOL It took me a minute. Too funny.

        The Aiel, fierce warriors who were similar to Celts and Native Americans in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, greeted warriors from other clans with “I see you.” Concerning mortality, they also said:

        “Life is a dream from which we all must wake.”

        I worked with a fellow who knew Rigney at The Citadel. He told me that James Rigney, Jr., aka Robert Jordan, was a two-tour helicopter gunner in Vietnam, an amazing record, as the average lifespan for door gunners in Vietnam, according to my friend, was about 27 minutes.

  6. Jane Sadek says:

    I’d like to take this opportunity to tell people to shop for hospice like someone life’s depended on it – because it does. I’ve been on the fringes of hospice a number of times, from family friend to primary caretaker. The last days of someone you love depends on you not just settling for the first name on the list given to you by the hospital or doctor. Yes, you’re distraught and want to get on with it, but services vary widely. Get all the help your insurance can get you.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      An excellent point, Jane. I would love to say that every Hospice will provide the same service, but there is a variety out there. Many are non-profit organizations staffed with compassionate individuals who feel a calling, but some are run by large corporations whose primary goal is to increase the bottom line. There’s a big difference in the care patients receive. In addition to finding out what insurance knows, some folks discreetly ask the nurses they know to recommend a good Hospice. Thank you for bringing this up, Jane.

  7. I too have felt that sense of being where this life and the next are touching when someone is close to the end. It’s very beautiful and your friend sounds wonderful. Bravo to you for reaching out like that. We need more kind hearts in this world.

  8. tomwisk says:

    Here I was sitting and reading email not expecting anything. I get to your post and now I’m thinking about my mortality and how dying alone sucks. This is the second shot at mortality I’ve got this past seven days. Kitchen Slattern got me thinking and reading about diabetes and now you come along and get me thinking about dying. Thanks, really, everyone should stop and meditate on passing onto a new life, but don’t dwell on it.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I agree with you, Tom. We live until we die, and we shouldn’t waste the life part by dwelling on death part. As for the theme on the internet, could be the melancholy of autumn that’s touching on that common thread that binds us. Hope your day brightens, and all the best to you.

  9. To gently ease a passing. Just to be there. Someone to listen. Thanks for stepping up. We’re all going to be there someday. Always hope for respect and dignity – with a little kindness once there.

  10. So beautiful and poignant. I am deeply touched by your motivation and inspiration for being a hospice volunteer. The gift you give of time and listening is amazing! We should all be so lucky…

  11. Hi Piper… or should I say “Angel Lady Piper.” We used hospice when my father died of cancer ten years ago. Without their help, we would not have been able to grant his wish: to die in his own home. I truly believe hospice nurses and volunteers are a special form of angel. You guys are the best. The hospice nurse educated us, told us what to look for in the last moments. Because of that my mother and I were there, holding my dad’s hands as he passed. A truly transcendent moment in my life. THANK YOU for your courage, to do the work and to write about it.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thank you for the compliment, Rachel, but no angel here. The angels are busy with the kindergarteners or nursing the people who are neither dying or getting better. Those are two jobs I could never do.

      I’m so glad you got the help you needed to ease your father’s passing.

  12. All I can say is thank you. To you, to all of the wonderful people at Hospice locations across the nation. Thank you for taking care of my grandparent, my aunt, my father after his cancer diagnosis, and most recently, my brother’s mother-in-law.

    Thank you for caring about them, and their family members. For allowing them to die with dignity in a home-like setting instead of in a cold, sterile hospital room…with nurses who are too busy to give them the time of day because they have too many other people to tend to.

    And thank you for seeing their butts. They WERE here. They DID (and do!) matter.

  13. Old people have the very best stories! I’ve often thought about doing this kind of volunteer work. I almost volunteered with a local military branch trying to capture stories from WW2 vets but the timing didn’t work out then. I should look into that again. Thanks for the shove 🙂

    • Piper Bayard says:

      You bet, Lisa! Let me know how that goes. I’m between Hospices right now but hope to be serving again soon. I, too, have thought about working with veterans. Perhaps you are shoving me, as well. 🙂

  14. Jess Witkins says:

    Piper , I think it’s wonderful that you do hospice volunteering. My dad does a lot of volunteering for the elderly or anyone that’s lonely really. He’ll offer car rides, take them grocery shopping or to the doctor’s or to church. He delivers food to almost all our neighbors and people at his church. Last fall I saw him graduate from a christian men’s fraternity and several of the college boys in it named my dad as a mentor who helped them. I’m really proud of my dad and I know you’re setting an amazing example for your own kids. Thank you. For hearing their stories, witnessing their lives, and making their passing a little more comfortable.

  15. Piper, I am very sure that your mother is proud of you and feels your love every time you tell someone ‘I see your butt.’ What a lovely, loving tribute to her, to all the people you have helped, and what an inspiration for your children. Thank you for what you do and for sharing with us.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thank you, Lynette. I often feel my mother with me, eating her celestial 3 Muskateers bars and laughing at me when I use an electric skillet, the same skillet I always rolled my eyes at when she would use it. I miss her every day.

  16. Piper that was such a beautiful post. It brought tears to my eyes even though I was smiling. I have always been drawn to hospice work, but 2 years as an RN working with people dying in the ICU left me psychically scarred. No kidding. Someday, I hope to be as strong as you, and be able to volunteer at hospice. Would love to hear more of your stories sometime.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      My mom was gone several years before I was able to volunteer. I served patients in the same nursing home where she crossed over. I thought it would be really hard, but it was actually very healing for me. Only because it was all in good time, though. Don’t push yourself. You’ll know when it’s time. It’s not about being strong, I think. It’s just about where we’re at in this moment, and we’re where we’re supposed to be.

  17. Love this, Piper. Are you recording any of your stories on paper or are you just letting them etch onto your heart?

    • Piper Bayard says:

      To be clear, I’m between Hospices at the moment and hope to be serving again soon. I did not write down their stories except in my heart. I considered anything that passed between us to be a sacred confidence.

  18. Kitt Crescendo says:

    What you’re doing takes a lot of strength and emotional fortitude. God bless you.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thank you, Kitt. However, I think it would take much more strength and fortitude to teach kindergarten or care for the mentally ill. Having had cancer at a young age, I’ve always had a slightly different perspective on death than most of society has so I don’t think it’s as difficult for me as it would be for others.

      • You’re right. Those jobs are tough, too. I have friends that do both and I admire the heck out of them…but don’t downplay what YOU do. As a volunteer in hospice you develop relationships with people who’s time you know is temporary. And as you do, you grow to care about them…rarely can one completely distance themselves. So when they finally go, though there’s the comfort in knowing they’re no longer hurting, you still feel the loss. So my hat is off to you, and you have my thanks. My grandpa was in hospice for about a year. I hope someone with as big a heart as yours was one of the people he spent time with.

  19. Piper, thank you for writing this. I’m a hospice social worker and you captured it so beautifully and honestly. It’s been a rough month for our hospice – young patients and hard losses – I can’t wait to share this with my coworkers. (The stories are my favorite part too.) Thanks so much for being a person who sees the person behind the suffering and the grief – a person who doesn’t leave the room.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Hi, Amy. Young patients must be so difficult for you folks. Thank you so much for what you do, as well. That would be the hardest room to stay in, I think. All the best to you.

  20. Imelda Evans says:

    I hope we all have someone at the end who can see our butts as you are for these people, Piper. I didn’t know you could be a hospice volunteer. It’s a wonderful thing you do for these people and their families.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Hospice actually relies heavily on volunteers. If you ever feel the call, ask around to find a good hospice and talk with them about it. They usually have excellent training programs and plenty of support for their volunteers. You would not be alone or “unarmed.”

  21. Diana Beebe says:

    Wow, Piper! I love that you do this. Do you write down their stories for their families to have? Those stories are treasures, butts showing and all. My grandfather had so many stories to tell about WWII, but he never said a word about them until very late in his life. I wish now that I’d written down those stories and encouraged him to tell us more. What a beautiful thing you’re doing!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I always consider whatever passes between me and patients to be a sacred confidence whether they ask that or not so no, I don’t write anything down or share it with their families. It hasn’t happened with me, but I know some conversations involve such things as crimes and illicit love affairs. Not anything the family needs to know about their beloved at that point, if you know what I mean.

      • I’m imagining a ninety-year-old divulging an affair from 60 years ago. Wow.

        • Piper Bayard says:

          You’d be surprised. A volunteer I spoke to once had an elderly gentleman ask that she and the staff keep his wife away so that he might bid farewell to his mistress of decades. Rather put them in a pickle. They did not agree to lie for him, but they did keep their mouths shut about him lying to his wife, and the man got his farewell. What else could they ethically do? It was a tough one. Glad I haven’t been in that situation.

  22. Jenny Hansen says:

    I see your butt, sister! And I LOVE IT!! 🙂

    Having done the beauty of those last days with three parents so far, I agree that there is no greater gift at that time than a warm smile and a patient ear to keep you company and share stories with. Enjoy your time, and know that you are a blessing in their lives, and in ours.

  23. gingercalem says:

    Your post touched me deeply. I witnessed my husband’s grandmother leave one life and head to the next. I loved her so much and because of hospice, she was able to be at home with her family. I have always said that God put people like you, nurses, and teachers, here as earth’s angels. Not everyone can do what you do. The reciprocal blessing is the magic.

  24. Elena Aitken says:

    Beautiful! I recently lost my Grandma and I’ll be forever thankful for the time I had with her to listen to her stories. It was a tough time, but so important.
    You, Piper, are so special. It is a true gift to be able to do what you do. thank you for that. ❤ ❤

  25. amyshojai says:

    Lovely! One of my writing group friends is a Chaplain with a home hospice organization and she tells the best stories. It is a calling, and a great gift. Thank you for honoring these people with the gift of yourself.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thank you, Amy. I loved the Chaplain who helped us when my mother was dying. They are very special people to be able to minister to people of so many faiths without judgment or bias.

  26. Piper, when I saw your title, I delayed reading this, for various reasons, some you know. But it was you, so I finally did. You have my deepest respect and admiration.

  27. Great piece. I have a mother with dementia whom I have helped take care of for five years. My brother takes care of her 24/7. I will never write about this because it doesn’t fit into the nature of my blog.

    My mother doesn’t want “outsiders” but we do have hospice and it is a lifeline. It’s great that you volunteer and help bring this service to those who need it so desperately.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      My mother fought the idea of Hospice and “outsiders,” too. Finally, I had to have help. I signed her up for it without her knowing. Then I introduced her to “Nurse Michelle” and “Nurse Michelle’s friends.” They only helped for a week or so, but even that was tremendous, and their bereavement counsellor after Mom passed was top notch.

      I’m so glad you’re getting help during this incredibly difficult time. *big hug* Your mother is very lucky to have you and your brother.

  28. Catie Rhodes says:

    (((hugs, Piper))) I am glad to know such a wonderful, compassionate person.

    We lost my Gran to cancer in 2010. During the last few months of her life, I spent quite a few hours (though not enough) sitting by her bed and talking to her. She had the *best* stories. I am grateful that I got to hear them, and I’ll never forget them.

    Thank you so much for sitting with people during their last time. I think you are right. We all just want affirmation that we were, indeed, here.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thank you, Catie. One of my favorite memories of my grandmother is the afternoon we spent going through old, old pictures from her childhood of people I’d never seen before. She’d had a stroke and couldn’t tell me anything about them, but I pieced together a lot from the notes on the backs of the pictures. So I would ask questions based on the notes, and she would indicate yes or no until I got it right. I’m so glad you had that time with your Gran.

  29. Joanne says:

    What a great way of putting what you do into words! I work at a Hospice and know that I couldn’t get what I need to done without volunteers like you. I too love working at the Hospice and couldn’t see myself being anywhere else. For as much as we take care of them they take care of me teaching me new lessons in life and how to laugh harder than I ever have! Young or old there’s always a story to be shared. Thank you, for sharing this and I will now be using the phrase “I’ve got your butt!”

  30. I love that you volunteer at a Hospice! I volunteer at a hospital and also love the time away from everything else to serve the public.

    My best friends both confirm that they see my “butt” and while it might not always be beautiful, I always know it was noticed.

  31. Lin Barrett says:

    A lovely, inspiring, and completely awesome post. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. Because you wrote this, I’ll make an effort to really see each butt I pass today … and then I’ll try to remember that.

  32. What a lovely post. I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing and being an awesomesauce human being. I want to have the chance to see people’s butts too. I hope someone wants to see mine as well. I’ve worked in nursing homes before and had the same feeling of specialness when they open up to me and allow me to hear their life stories. Didn’t realize how much I missed that feeling until this post. Maybe I should investigate visiting a home with my 4yo? I think it would be a nice learning experience for him and possibly a welcome ray of sunshine for the patients **Assuming he’s not acting terrible that day** 😉 Thank you Piper for spending that special time with those who relish it. There’s no question, it means so much to them and their families.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I took my daughter with me a couple of times. Once to deliver baskets and once to help with our two dogs, who loved to visit the patients. It was a very good experience for her.

      I’m glad my post spoke to you. Please let me know how things go for you and your son. 🙂

  33. […] of the most beautiful posts I’ve ever read on the gift of being a hospice volunteer by Piper Bayard. Exceptional […]

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