With the leak of radio active materials from the Fukushima Daiichi Plant, my thoughts went to my friends and acquaintances in Fukushima Prefecture. Are people still volunteering for a disaster recovery center in Minami-Soma District, located within 20-mile radius of the leaking plant? When I checked their blog site, I could not help smiling. Today, 70 volunteers participated in weeding, drain cleaning, and debris removal. The photo was taken a year ago when I helped unclog a well drain in Odaka, 12 miles north of the plant. Volunteers are still engaged in similar projects. Even though the center has been facing financial difficulties, they seem to be thriving with an average of 40 volunteers signed up for each day.
These volunteers paid for their transportation and food. When a lodge provided by the center were full, they had to look for an accommodation, which was not easy as hotel rooms were reserved by construction companies months in advance. In my case, I had a list of about 20 hotels, and the last one I called had a room available. Often, we did not see the owners of the houses we are cleaning. A restriction was still in effect, and no one was allowed to stay overnight there. Most of the evacuees live in temporary housing units built far inland.
The real time data of environmental radioactivity level is available online. For example, the level at Minami-Soma City Office today was 0.272 µSv/h, slightly higher than the normal level of less than 0.114 µSv/h. Most of the volunteers were well informed of radiation effects. Nevertheless, they took a risk. I judged I would be OK as my exposure would be limited to 3 days. The fact I did not have dependents played a role in my decision-making as well.
Why do we volunteer in Fukushima? A man said, "For self-satisfaction." I agreed with him. The center director had a different answer. "When the evacuees are allowed to return home, we want them to be able to start afresh."
We fear to become burdensome to our loved ones. A 75-year-old friend told me she would rather be euthanized than being placed in a hospice because she does not wish to bother anyone in her last days. My mother would rather be institutionalized than becoming a burden to her daughters. The sick or aged may no longer be able to contribute physically for the society, but emotionally the final weeks or months spent together with them would mean much to those who care for them. It is a passage that we all should go through – caring for our loved ones on deathbed when we are young, and accepting care when it is our turn to face the inevitable.
I saw the following interaction when I was a hospice nurse.
The family decided to take care of her at home, and her youngest son quit truck-driving in order to become her primary caretaker. One day, when he helped the emaciated mother onto a commode, she was visibly upset. Losing her independency had been painfully hard for this strong-willed woman.
“What’s the matter?” the son asked. “I want….,” the mother uttered. “I want you to do what you want to do.” “Mom, I’m doing what I want.” “I mean, out there on the road!” “Mom,” he sighed. “You may not like this, and I don’t know how to say this, but this thing is helping me.”
Yes, she was helping him cope with her passing. She was also helping him grow. The time he spent for her will continue to sustain him for the remainder of his life.