Helping out can bring its own healing
As National Volunteering Week begins tomorrow, Norah Casey tells of the importance of volunteering to her
When my husband Richard died after an all-too-short battle with cancer, I was totally unprepared for the pain and devastation. In truth, during those few months when every day brought worse and worse news, and our life became a rollercoaster of oncology units and radiology departments, we rarely talked about the inevitability of his passing.
So when the time came and we found ourselves enveloped in the care and comfort of Blackrock Hospice I realised that to die with dignity was a great gift.
Like everyone reading this, I had had my share of death - my father, my sister some great friends. I am no different to anyone else. Except in one way - I could do something to make it possible to speak about it and to help ensure that others had a death that was as beautiful and comforting as Richard's.
Some months later, I was being interviewed on radio and the conversation inevitably turned to Richard and his passing. I tried to talk about his death, about the crippling grief of losing the person you love most and found myself crying and unable to continue.
I was mortified - devastated that I had cried on national radio. My reputation was as a former Dragon and tough businesswoman. I still remember the first messages trickling in on Twitter and via text message - very kind people who understood what it was like to feel that way.
It took a great deal to talk openly about Richard, at the time I felt vulnerable and embarrassed to be talking about something so personal and emotional. But it was something I could do - a way of volunteering that was different for me.
I started to receive letters, hundreds and hundreds of them - some too hard to read. Cancer charities and the hospice movement reached out to me and encouraged me to continue with the conversation.
I felt comforted that by sharing my story I might be able to make a difference.
Since Richard's death three years ago, I have done everything and anything I can to help the many great cancer charities and the hospice movement in particular.
Every time I do an interview, a photocall, write an article, stand on stage, host a fund-raiser, or run a race I get something precious that makes me feel I can make a tiny difference. But I wanted to make a bigger impact. I began working with the Hospice Foundation on a documentary for RTE called Way to Go - it was broadcast last summer. We filmed for months and I battled many of my own demons along the way.
I went back to Blackrock Hospice for the first time since Richard died, to meet the team. I would never have had the courage to do that if it wasn't for the programme. And it was a privilege to talk to people who were in the last stages of life, the peace and acceptance they had - it helped me through the grieving process.
When it was broadcast it meant a great deal to me that I had done something that mattered. I have benefited enormously through all of the people who have stopped me in the street, held my hand and told me how they felt I had spoken for them.
There are many forms of volunteering. I shared my own story with you to show that we can all help in our own unique way. Sometimes the best way is by giving your time, your skills and your dedication, and the rewards are rich for you and the cause you choose to help and support. I volunteered something precious and private when I was sinking under the weight of grief and raw bereavement.
But I know that giving something of myself to help spark a conversation about cancer and the hospice movement helped me chart a way through this new chapter in my life. Sometimes you have to take a risk and say "yes" because all of us have the power to change lives and be the best we can be. Volunteer for something today and you'll never look back.
To view opportunities to volunteer, visit the national volunteering database (I-VOL), atvolunteer.ie.