Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tears for Volunteers

I've been to six funerals this year. All volunteers who were part of our team. Today I was at one of them. Tony (not his real name) volunteered for 18 months. At his initial interview he surprised me. He revealed that he had terminal cancer and that he wanted to do positive things with the rest of his life and volunteer. I later learnt that he had been a positive guy most of his life. His spirit always shone through. Always smiling. Always kind. Tony actually inspired me to do Movember last year. I raised some money for men’s cancer such as prostrate. Today I shed a tear, no; I shared a few at Tony’s service. His volunteering was mentioned in the Eulogy, pictures of him in his volunteer uniform flashed up on a screen with other memories of his life.

Afterwards I stood near a field near where the service took place. Kangaroos stood and watched me. Their Joeys were sneaking peeks at me from their pouches. Grey clouds rolled across a vast sky and a gentle breeze kept the temperature at comfortable. It was a serene moment as I stood there reflecting. And I thought of Volunteer managers across the world and the different circumstances they deal with throughout their career.

Death is never easily spoken about. The subject can shine a light upon your own mortality. It can reopen painful wounds. When a volunteer passes on it can affect your team, your staff and you.

I don’t know of any other manager within my organization that has gone to as many team member funerals this year. Yes there have been some. And yes – the grief is just as strong.

People on the paid workforce normally retire mid sixties. It may be later in some countries, earlier in others. Volunteers, volunteer on. Many retirees volunteer. The previous funeral I attended was for a precious and wonderful 95 year old volunteer. But death has not discriminated with age this year. There have been tragedies and sad surprises.

The fact is that we do have an older population in many cases on many of our teams. We welcome this. We welcome all ages. I have no data or proof that Volunteer Managers deal more with death than any other managers of paid people in many workplaces. But I suspect this may be the case.

I see very little written on the subject. I've broached the topic previously but got no comment or reaction. It is as if it’s an uncomfortable topic. But I also know that many people who lead volunteers and are reading this are nodding their heads right now.

There are no steadfast rules on grief and coping with the death of a team member be it sudden or expected. It’s good just to know that you are not alone out there and that many of us have this experience. We can grieve too. In our own way and in our own time. But we also need to give ourselves permission to talk about these things. Can we share how we deal with this at our next network meeting or write a response here for other people to see or write our own blog?

We often put on a brave face. We are there for our organizations, the volunteers, the staff, the clients, and much more. We deal with sad news and put on a happy face for the next volunteering shift, the next meeting or concentrate on the next report.

We deal professionally with the minute matters that seem huge to some people after we return from a heart wrenching funeral. And that’s us. Volunteer Managers. We keep on going on.

But we need self-care too. We need to take the time out to reflect. We too need that bit of space. Keeping on going on could well lead to burn out. We need to support each other as well as our teams. We need to be kind to ourselves.

Being at a volunteer funeral can feel like being at a family funeral. In a way they are similar. Volunteers pull together like families. There are hugs, tears, laughing at the funnier times and fun memories. But then we all go home to our own lives. We give an extra hug to those that love us and to those that we love.

I write this in memory of all the volunteers who have passed away this year.

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