Bailey-Boushay House Volunteer

Human Connections are ‘Fabric of Life’

For Annie Aoki Becker, every visit with her dear friend battling cancer brought grief tempered with grace.

image description Annie Aoki Becker

Annie’s friend passed away in December 2017 at Bailey-Boushay House, a facility designed to support living at end-of-life. Friends and family are integral to the treatment plans at Bailey-Boushay, where team members acknowledge the emotional and spiritual needs of everyone on the patient’s journey.

“Just being at Bailey-Boushay left me so utterly moved,” said Annie. “It was an emotional time. It’s like you’re falling, and they catch you and set you down gently. It was such a beautiful experience, and I thought I owe them a debt of gratitude.”

A few months earlier, Annie’s 20-year career in software development had come to a close, following a division layoff. She’d always been interested in the health sciences, but also the human side of health care, navigating the medical system and nursing care with her elderly parents, and at the bedside of her beloved friend. With the door open to a career change, she gathered her courage and walked through.

Beginning a new career in health care at age 55, Annie is far from retirement, but her flexible schedule works perfectly for adding a volunteer shift at Bailey-Boushay.

As Annie completed her training as an emergency department technician at a local college, her feeling of connection to Bailey-Boushay remained. One life change deserved another she thought, and she applied for a volunteer position at Bailey-Boushay. There were other influences at work: lessons in civil rights and community activism from her late father, the equally resilient spirit and generosity of her 96-year-old mother, and the chance to set an example in the eyes of her 13-year-old son.

“I spent so much time in my career working on ways to communicate with this,” said Annie, referring to her smartphone. “But screens are not the fabric of our lives. Interactions with other human beings that have the power to replenish us … that’s the real fabric of life.”

Annie volunteers one shift per week at Bailey-Boushay, four hours that span lunchtime for both outpatient clients — individuals receiving HIV treatment and other supportive care — and inpatient nursing care residents. It’s a chance to sit, share a meal and hear about others’ life experiences, Annie says. More than half of Bailey-Boushay’s outpatient clients are homeless. Having lunch with Annie may be one remedy for feeling invisible — a way to be seen and heard.

Assisting in an exercise class, Annie follows the lead of the occupational therapist, doing the stretches with the residents. “I stretch my arm and feel the satisfaction in my body, then look across at a resident, and see that we’re sharing the same experience. It’s therapeutic for me too,” she said.

Beginning a new career in health care at age 55, Annie is far from retirement, but her flexible schedule works perfectly for adding a volunteer shift at Bailey-Boushay. She notices the hours pass quickly when spending time with clients, and a feeling of accomplishment during and after her shift. The accomplishment, she says, is choosing to connect through volunteering — then being open to wherever it takes you.

“In stressful times our feelings of despair can be paralyzing, but my time at Bailey-Boushay is the antidote,” Annie said. “What is more central to our humanity than the ability to be kind to one another? You just need to make that step, and it’s all right there.”

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