“Reflecting on Reflection” – Hannah Benson ’20

The past few weeks in CBL with WPS Transition program have been off to an incredible start. We have had a cooking class, a garden club presentation, and more, and we are only halfway through the semester. I would like to take a moment not just to reflect on my experience with some wonderful students on-site but also some really thoughtful and reflective students off-site. I spent my Friday before October break with my fellow CBL Interns leading some Spanish 301 discussion sessions. These classes demonstrated some of the most compelling and reflective discussions I have ever been a part of. We spoke in Spanish and in English making connections between lessons learned at CBL and in the classroom. Even more profound, is that my groups easily passed through questions about basic daily-life at their sites and dove deeply into the difficult questions of asset-based and deficit-based lenses in a volunteer setting.

Leaving these sessions was like leaving a meditation class–through a tough week filled with the typical worldly negative news, I was the one who needed to hear the sincere and positive comments made by my fellow classmates. In CBL, we often get backlash. Students feel that this should not be a requirement and feel forced by their professors to volunteer. In moments like this, when the student can surpass this feeling of requirement they open up to such interesting discussions and possibilities within their CBL sites. I am so grateful to Kevin, Beth, Wendy and so many more of the new students at the WPS Transition Spanish program on Wednesday mornings. They come into CBL with a smile on their face ready to interact even if their Spanish, like my own, has good and bad days. They are dedicated on-site and also in their discussion in the classroom, which I was so grateful to be a part of last Friday.

That “aha” moment that we as interns seek to inspire in CBL students is often difficult to conjure. Sometimes it never comes and other times it has been there the whole time. This week, I am grateful for every CBL student, even the ones who don’t always want to be there but still go. Thanks to the Donelan Office and Michelle and Isabelle, I was able to get a sneak peek into the minds of so many wonderful human beings.

Putting Hospice Into Words: Bringing a CBL experience into my Creative Writing Class – Paige Cohen ’21

This semester, I’m taking an introductory creative writing course. Each week, we are asked to write short pieces of nonfiction, responding to prompts designed to get our ideas flowing, reflecting on our past experiences. Last week’s prompt was to write a letter to a stranger: someone we had met only briefly, but who had some effect on our lives. After thinking for a while, I decided to write to one of the hospice residents I visited in my freshman year, through my CBL Montserrat course: Death and Society.  It’s a raw, fairly unedited piece of writing, but I wanted to share it here as I continue to grapple with how to put my CBL experience into words.


To the woman who died six hours after my visit

I don’t remember your name. Actually, maybe I never knew it. They’d rather us just know initials, because of HIPAA regulations. You were my only “emergency” patient. I’d just been making my normal weekly visit with your neighbor down the hall — we’ll call her Olga (HIPAA again). Olga was my first hospice patient. She spoke only Russian, but we’d managed to build up some level of rapport, using a mix of google translate and Tchaikovsky music. Despite her advanced dementia, Olga seemed to know who I was each week and started calling me “my girl” every time I came to see her. It made me feel good to be recognized.

But this week, Harriett the volunteer coordinator, had asked me to visit you, too. You weren’t doing well. For a hospice patient, this was an especially serious description. I walked down the hall toward your room, wincing at the huddle of patients in wheelchairs around the elevators, longing to see a visitor. Like every other room in this nursing facility, yours looked more like a hospital than a residence: powered bed, hand-rails on the wall, pastel wallpaper, faint smell of urine masked by lemon disinfectant. A crucifix — definitely yours in this Jewish facility — hung on the wall. You were sitting in your wheelchair, painfully thin and hunched. Your mouth constantly moved as you muttered under your breath. Your eyes roved, seeming to focus on me for a second, but then looking away. Did you even know I was there?

I sat down in the metal folding chair next to you and tried to think back to my seminar class. It seemed incredible to me that what I was doing right now was part of a syllabus: hospice volunteering, 15%. We were studying death and dying, what it meant to die a “good death,” but here I was confronting this question in a decidedly non-academic setting. What was I to do? There was no professor, no trainer here to guide me. All I had to go on was your patient file that said you were a devout Catholic.

I took your hand, remembering from dementia training that touch could be powerful when words weren’t an option. Your muscles were tense, your hand crumpled up but began to relax as I rubbed back and forth with my thumb. I hope I was being gentle enough. I took out the plastic rosary the facility chaplain had given me on my first day, and placed the beads between my hands and yours. You looked at me and clutched the beads. I said the Rosary prayers, praying for you as I said the words. The whole time I felt unsure: should I stop, did you even know what was happening? At the end, you made the Sign of the Cross on your own. I guess you did know.

A week later, I visited again. We prayed the rosary again. I sang to you a little. You continued to mutter under your breath — the only word I could make out was “wonderful.” But you did not make the Sign of the Cross this time. A few hours after my visit, I received a phone call that you had passed away, and I cried a little back on my college campus. I hope someone was there with you when you died. I hope your death was easy. I hope my awkward, college freshman presence was somehow pleasant and not disturbing. I don’t remember your name, but I will never forget the way we met.