Song has special meaning to volunteer


When I volunteered at a senior residential center, I typically left the complex with a Faith Hill CD in my player. For some reason, I had to belt out the song “Breathe.”

My apologies to Hill, but she should know I’m smart enough to limit my singing to the privacy of the shower or a car without passengers. My singing ability is scary bad.

What beautiful lyrics to celebrate a special love. Hill sings, “Just breathe.”

But that song was something I played after volunteering at the senior center.

I soon realized that I was extracting a literal interpretation from the breathe command.

I am not a medical person, but I was amazed how many people I would work with who suffer from breathing difficulties.

Some residents suffered a list of difficult breathing diagnoses. I met people with COPD, congestive heart issues, emphysema and severe asthma.

When I think of all the goals I had as a then-50-year-old, I realized how some people just want to breathe. Their expectations in life were entirely different and basic.

It was amazing how reality settled in for me. These poor people had been in leadership roles in their earlier lives. Some were engineers, doctors or heads of households. Now all they wanted was to do was breathe. Panic quickly sets in if someone is having an episode. But I cannot emphasize enough how calming it is for them to have an understanding person around.

I was glad to learn some of the strategies that a layperson could use at activity time to soothe those afflicted. We used prayer, meditation, crafts, cooking and sharing time. Those modalities are good for any problem. But I could see how effective those ideas were for those with respiratory afflictions. They especially liked my reading aloud to them.

I liked using some select readings for my charges. The Reminisce Magazine had some comforting articles to remind the people of then and now. It helped them relate to a time where they realized how important their generation was. The writings in the magazine give the seniors a sense of worth.

And most patients said the sensation of being winded is an anxious time. By having others around who knew the situation, the fear was abated. We all learned relaxation techniques and meditation for tough times if we needed to use them.

Having made that statement, I don’t think the nursing residential centers could ever have too many volunteers. Making that connection is comforting to many ailing senior citizens.

We soon developed a little ritual where we all played Hill’s song at the end of each session. It became our little rally song that was just for listening. No one wanted to waste any oxygen by singing.

So, yes, by all means, if time permits in your busy schedule, try to find an hour or two to get to know those on the inside who appreciate connections with caring volunteers.

Sunny Cook is a retired language arts teacher. She and her husband live in Summerville and enjoy nature centers.