By Toni L. Eaton, RN, BSN, MS, President & CEO of Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care
For most of us, friendships define our world. Having friends that you can count on to support your wacky ideas, celebrate your milestones, and encourage you when you need it the most can make all the difference. And watching and cheering them on in their adventures is rewarding, inspiring, and life-affirming.
I’m lucky to count among my friends many who meet that description, but one, in particular, would never have been part of my life if I didn’t take a chance to turn a stranger into a friend. She now is a lifelong friend who comes every year to run for our Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care team in the Falmouth Road Race.
I think about all the lost opportunities during the last few years of the pandemic for people to not only connect with the friends they already have but also turn strangers into friends. We’ve been on a social pause. Now that we’re able to get out more, we have the chance again not only to enjoy the people already in our lives but to come out of our shells and create new relationships.
It all starts with hello.
While on vacation in Aruba seven years ago, my husband and I were sitting by the pool when another woman smiled hello, and we struck up a conversation. Within minutes, I knew this was a person to enjoy. I learned her name was Johna B. She liked running and lived in Philadelphia. We talked about families. We talked about Aruba. We hung out over burgers and beer. We talked about dogs. It turns out we are both diehard dog people.
A few days later, when it was time for us to part company, I was sad to leave this new friend behind. I figured we would probably never see each other again. In the spur of the moment, I invited Johna and her friend to my husband’s birthday bash happening just three weeks later. We didn’t really expect they would come. But they did, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Shortly after meeting Johna, OCH was selected to run a charity fundraising team in the 7-mile Falmouth Road Race. Being chosen to wear these race bibs is an incredible honor in one of the country’s most storied and competitive races. I was very excited, but not being a runner myself, I was a little nervous. Amazingly, Johna immediately said to count her in, and she’s been running for us ever since, along with several other terrific volunteers.
It’s odd now to think we were ever strangers.
The Falmouth Road Race on August 21 will have extra meaning for Johna this year. When we met, she had had no direct experience with hospice yet threw herself into our fundraising efforts with an open heart. But this last year, Johna’s grandmother fell ill, and hospice has made a healing difference for her family. This year’s race is a way for her to acknowledge that and help others who need that care.
During the race, her family’s journey, and Johna’s other wild adventures, I am honored to be there to cheer her on. She continues to inspire me with her enthusiastic approach to life, and I am grateful for her support and friendship. All of this, just from saying hello to a stranger.
Toni L. Eaton, RN, BSN, MS, is the President & CEO of Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care of West Bridgewater, a dynamic non-profit hospice serving more than 55 communities south of Boston. OCH also runs the Dr. Ruth McLain Hospice Home in Braintree. A native and resident of the South Shore, Toni brings her compassion and experience as a nurse, veteran, and community leader to her insightful columns for South Shore Senior News. Her leadership has been honored by several groups, including the South Shore Women’s Business Network. She currently sits on the board of the Hospice & Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts. For more information, call (781) 341-4145 or visit Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care at www.oldcolonyhospice.org.