A few months ago, one of my favorite cousins died. He was one of the world's genuinely nice guys. Not only was he fun to talk with an family reunions, etc., but also he was a volunteer.
He spent time at an inner-city youth center. He didn't just coach kids; he life-coached kids. At his funeral, grown men walked to the podium and, weeping, told the story of how he'd changed their lives.
He was, quite literally, an inspiration.
The problem was...he lived hundreds of miles away. So we never got to see a lot of his good deeds. Not that we wanted to look over his shoulder -- that would have embarrassed him. What we'd really wanted was to be available for him while he struggled with his illness in the last years of his life.
Because he was so far away and everyone's life is so busy, we didn't even really do much in the way of visiting. He didn't die alone. He had another whole side to his family, not just ours. But we acutely felt the loss of not being there for him. Our loss at not being able to comfort him. Our loss at not really saying goodbye.
The Monday after his funeral, our local hospice announced they were holding volunteer training sessions. Moved by my cousin's death, and how good it was for us to know he'd had someone caring for him, I signed up for the classes.
Two months later, the classes are over and I'm an officially trained hospice volunteer.
All because my cousin showed us just how much of a difference a volunteer can make.