Last month, Dinners with Love was one of six local nonprofits to receive proceeds from this year’s Middlebury Maple Run, an annual half-marathon that attracts hundreds of runners from throughout the region. When your organization is chosen to receive funds through their grant program, you are asked to send volunteers to pitch in on race day. There was a team of us there, and the race organizers had assigned each of us to varying roles.
Our volunteer Ashley was standing out on the corner of Collins Drive and South Street, pointing runners down the final stretch of the course.
Further on up the way, board member Frank Finnerty and I were spotting racer bibs for the announcers as they approached the finish line.
And then another board member Catherine Wall and her husband Donnie were at the entrance of the food tent, taking and selling tickets for a much deserved pancake breakfast.
As I stood there watching all 750+ racers, I got a real sense for the broad range of human experience at the finish line.
There were some runners who you would never know had just run a half-marathon. Apart from rosy cheeks, they looked as fresh as when they had left the starting gate.
Other runners came across the finish with a grimace on their face that quickly turned to a look of personal victory. Their legs were heavy, their bodies were tired, but you could tell they were quite proud of a race well run.
While a lot of folks would get a sudden burst of energy as the finish line drew near, still others maintained their steady pace. They took their time, and the race would not be over until they were ready for it to be over.
And then there were the couples. Young couples, older couples. I suspect that they weren’t always running at the same pace for all 13.1 miles, but by the end, they matched each other, step-for-step.
At one point, I noticed a woman who seemed to be jogging around and around in circles. And I realized: she couldn’t finish the race just yet. She was waiting for someone. Sure enough, another woman, who I took to be her daughter, rounded the corner. The two of them took hands, and then ran as fast and as strong as they could toward the finish, together.
Throughout it all, there was a crowd of spectators there to cheer on the runners. Some were strangers, some were loved ones, but all offered the runners precisely what they needed in that moment. If a runner was looking particularly tired and so ready to be done, the crowd yelled words of encouragement. And if a runner was coming in hot, looking none the worse for wear, applause, whistles, and cheers rose up from the crowd to urge them on.
For me, there’s just something irresistibly poetic about having all of the Dinners with Love volunteers there to support the runners at the finish line. Witnessing the end of the race was a perfect illustration of what hospice care, and indeed what Dinners with Love itself, are all about.
In short, we are there to be whatever the families we serve need us to be. Everyone’s experience of the end-of-life, just like everyone’s experience of the finish line, is quite different.
For the daughter who has cared for her ailing mother for years, who is now in her final months and days of life, Dinners with Love is a relief. She’s not having yet another bowl of cold cereal for dinner tonight, or the stress of wondering what to make. Instead, she’s having a warm, delicious meal donated by her mother’s favorite restaurant in town.
For the food lover who has not been able to leave his house in months, Dinners with Love is a joy. The restaurant comes to him by way of a kind volunteer. He and his family can create new memories in the time they have left.
For the individual whose body is tired, whose heart is proud of a life well lived, who feels a bit uncertain of what is to come in the final stretch of her life, Dinners with Love is a comfort. It’s a reassurance that her community is there to support her.
And for the couple–perhaps one of them is under the care of hospice, perhaps both of them are–Dinners with Love is a reminder to set aside special time for one another. One of the most common things we hear from those we serve is that Dinners with Love lives up to its name: it is their date night.
With great thanks to our friends at the Middlebury Maple Run, we will keep telling stories just like these. The results are in, and they were able to grant us $1,000 to fund the growth of our program in Addison County. We are ready to go the distance!