I’ve been a volunteer in both radiotherapy and palliative care for over 12 years.

Today, I’ve decided to tell you all about my vision of my role in palliative care, my fears (and also my tears), but above all the life lessons I’ve learned from it.

First, I’d like to quote Samuel Benchetrit with a brief passage that perfectly summarizes how I approach my role as a volunteer.

“[…], you must never be afraid of loving too much. That’s courage. Never be selfish with your heart. If it’s full of love, then show it. Take it out of yourself and show it to the world. There aren’t enough brave hearts. There aren’t enough visible hearts out there.”

For me then, palliative care is something I see and live with my heart.

As for my motivations, my reasons were obvious when I decided to volunteer in radiotherapy, because I had been a patient there and I wanted to give to others what I had received. I felt perfectly able to do this, because I knew exactly what patients were going through, having experienced it myself. But palliative care was a completely unknown world, full of myths.

However, I can tell you that today what I want most is to give patients as much as they give me by entrusting me with a part of their life. Because that’s what it’s all about: the trust that patients give us by sharing their precious life with us.

First of all, I didn’t really see how I could be of any help. I had no idea what palliative care was; to me, it was just a place of death.

On my first day, I met Sophie and Jeannette, two volunteers who were preparing bouquets of flowers for the patients. In this simple activity, I could already feel a kind of goodness, a kindness. I then spoke with Jeannette, who gave me my first lesson.

I’ll always remember the moment she said to me, “You know, Brigitte, the people you’re going to meet here are alive and they have living needs. It’s no more difficult than that.” In fact, I had to replace the idea of death with that of life.

What I want most is to give patients as much as they give me by entrusting me with a part of their life.

—Brigitte Cappe

The second life lesson I received from Rifka after the death of one of our patients. This patient had asked me to talk to him about what was going on outside. Our meetings were a bit like two friends getting together. Sometimes I even forgot where we were. Then the inevitable happened.

I was angry that I hadn’t been able to prevent it. Rifka asked me, ”Do you remember the last thing you did together?” Of course I did: we had a great laugh! Rifka added that this was the only thing I had to remember: that I had made Stéphane’s last days joyful.

There’s a lot to say, but basically, being a volunteer means being available for people at the end of their lives, and also being there for their families.

I’m not perfect, I still make a lot of mistakes, but I’m learning! And, as Samuel Benchetrit so rightly said, I always try to keep my heart out!

Do you have an outside heart? If so, consider volunteering with Hope & Cope. We’re always looking for people with a heart of gold and time to share. We look forward to meeting you!

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