Mr. C. had been a farmer, as he put it, “all my life.” He grew up on a farm and only left the farm during the years he served in the military during World War II. He summarized his recollection of the war simply as “…terrible, I mean really terrible with one exception.” Mr. C. met his wife-to-be while in Holland during the battle of Arnhem, where her family allowed Allied soldiers to hide in their home at one point and kept them hidden from a German patrol. Apparently it was love at first sight. Following the war and their wedding, Mr. and Mrs. C. moved back to the farm.

Mr. C. continued as a dairy farmer for decades – he reported enjoying every aspect of farming. He spoke of the “blessing” of farm life – being your own boss, enjoying the outdoors and witnessing the miracles of nature. His life changed dramatically when cancer reappeared. He had had a bout of stomach cancer six years earlier – he had surgery and treatment and thought that everything was clear. But it returned with a vengeance – this time having metastasized to various parts of his body. He realized that he could no longer care for his dairy herd and sold all of his cattle.

However, he wanted to still do something, so he expanded his honeybee business. He added a significant number of bee hives. This is where my services came into play. Mr. C. asked me if I knew anything about bees and bee hives. Unfortunately, I was totally ignorant. I shared with him that I enjoyed seeing the bees in my garden, but as to how to care for them, I was at a loss. I recalled an incident from my youth when my brothers and I tried to rob a beehive of honey in a dead tree. The consequences weren’t good at all. I remember getting stung several times and running down to a nearby river and diving in to get away from a swarm of highly agitated bees.

Mr. C. told me I could be his apprentice and he then shared details of bee hive care (e.g., the feeding of the bees in the winter) He told me I was just in time to help him harvest some honey from his hives. To say the least, this did not sound too promising to me considering my earlier experience. He assured me that this process would be very different. We donned these amazing beekeeper outfits, looking a bit like astronauts, and set off for the hives. This wonderful gentleman clearly knew what he was doing and I just did what I was told to do. It was very disconcerting to have that many bees buzzing around my head, but I was completely protected.

Following the harvest we took the honey frames to his honey house. The honey was extracted and prepared for bottling. I was able to help him with this chore, with him gently explaining every procedure to his apprentice. As I left after we finished having said goodbye, I felt very confident in my bee managing ability. That bubble was quickly burst. One solitary angry vindictive bee that was lurking outside the door landed on my hand and I was stung. I could only chuckle – it seemed like that bee was just waiting for me to appear to exact his vengeance.

It turned out to be the last time that Mr. C. was able to do any major work with his bees. He soon became too weak to do much and his health decline was precipitous. He died soon after.

It was a special assignment that reminded me of the unique blessing of being a volunteer. You simply never know how your life will be enriched by the patients and their families and what amazing experiences you can encounter.

–By Steven B., volunteer