Loretta Lowrey’s Practice As Service to Others
Thirty years is a long time to be in a relationship with anyone, let alone with an organization that you volunteer for. Loretta Lowrey arrived at Zen Caregiver Project (then known as Zen Hospice Project) as a volunteer in 1992, and while she stepped away during a few child-raising years and then again during her busy career years, Loretta has always found herself being called back to the organization in one way or another.
She came to Zen Caregiving Project (ZCP) in the middle of the AIDS epidemic when even the word ‘hospice’ was new to her.
“Suddenly, everyone in my world was talking about it—the woman who took care of my daughter, my sister, a museum curator that I worked with,” Loretta said. “When something presents itself to me three or more times, I pay attention to it.”
Paying attention is exactly what she did by volunteering at Laguna Honda Hospital as a Zen Caregiving Project caregiver. She continued in that role for five years until her second child turned two years old; she then stepped away to spend more time with her children. Because of her background in nonprofit management and development, Loretta continued to stay active with the organization by occasionally helping with events and development support. Over those years of being a full-time mom and employee, Loretta lost touch with ZCP for a while.
In 2013 when Loretta was looking forward to retirement, she decided it was time to return.
It felt like coming home,” she said. “When I returned to Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH) as a volunteer, it felt so familiar and lovely to be a part of that again. We all live in these self-created bubbles and the greatest impact for me has been meeting the range of people who have invited me into their lives and into their hearts.”
Observing the frailty and resilience of the residents is what continues to open Loretta up to becoming more compassionate and open-hearted.
“It’s given me perspective on what is truly important. Volunteering at the hospital and being with residents is so real. So many other things that seemed important before dropping away. It motivates me to live more fully by being exposed to illness and death and having it normalized,” Loretta said.
One of the residents who made an impact on Loretta was a woman who used a device to speak. The only way that she could communicate was by typing out words and since it was difficult to use her hands, it took a long time for her to have “a conversation.”
“I was so taken aback that it was such an effort to communicate, yet she would say things like ‘That’s such a pretty dress.’ We laughed and cried together while completing a legacy project that was important to her.”
During the pandemic, Loretta became a Mindful Caregiving Education (MCE) instructor for ZCP. She now teaches some of the MCE courses and still sits with residents at LHH. Through the years and through her various roles with ZCP, Loretta has become more aware of herself.
“One thing I am able to notice is when I’m acting out a role or when I have my armor on. The training we’ve had to sit at the bedside with someone has made me more aware of the power of presence,” Loretta said.
“I really think of this work as part of my practice. I think of service as seeing the wholeness in others. I thought I’d be coming to this work to give something, but in fact, I take away so much more than I give.
“Many of these residents are living fully in spite of their illness or condition,” Loretta said. “They are such a gift to me.”
And Loretta, like all our volunteers, is a gift to us at Zen Caregiving Project.
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