Most of the time, Donald C. Pogue is speeding along America’s fast lane. As an associate judge of the U.S. Court of International Trade, which sits in Manhattan, Pogue said it’s easy to get caught up in the pace of New York City life.
As one of nine members of the USCIT, Pogue has a busy schedule of hearing cases involving international trade and customs law questions.
It’s an atmosphere in which one can quickly lose perspective on life, Pogue said.
So for two days out of every month, he returns to Connecticut to volunteer at Connecticut Hospice in Branford. And though his work with people who have lost spouses to death is often challenging and heart-wrenching, Pogue said it helps him understand and appreciate people in his life while helping others cope with death.
At the hospice, he facilitates bereavement support groups for widowers, encouraging participants to discuss their experiences of loss. His volunteer work also includes assisting extended family during the bereavement period. He is one of many volunteers at the hospice who team with social workers, ministers, nurses and doctors to help people in the final days of their lives and lend support to their families.
“The whole idea is for the family to come together around the end of life and say what matters to them,” Pogue said. “To be witness to that is something I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do.”
Pogue has been volunteering with Connecticut Hospice for about 10 years, but he has long been impressed with the facility’s initiative and values. Before he became a judge in Connecticut and then New York, Pogue, a Fairfield County resident, became familiar with Connecticut Hospice when he served on the state’s Commission on Hospitals and Health Care starting in 1989. That public agency is responsible for regulating the state’s health care industry.
In 1994, Pogue became a Superior Court judge in New Haven before President Bill Clinton appointed him to the USCIT in 1995. Pogue also practiced for 15 years at the Hartford firm of Kestell, Pogue & Gould before joining the state government and then the bench.
He took a keen interest in the spousal bereavement opportunity at the hospice because his wife of 38 years, Susan, is a marriage and family therapist. The couple became interested in understanding relationships and that led to Pogue learning how people’s emotions are tied to their quality of life. The idea is to help people talk through their emotions when they’re ready.
“Emotional experiences define what’s important in people’s lives,” Pogue said. “We facilitate the discussion not to re-traumatize but to allow people the time and space to work through their experiences. People can tell their stories in a safe environment with people who will listen and facilitate healing.”
Depth Of Connection
Pogue has come to realize that while many people appreciate their life partners, they don’t fully realize the depth of their connection until that partner passes away. As a result, there’s a unique pain that follows the death of a spouse along with an opportunity to reach a greater understanding about life, Pogue said.
“The most inspiring sessions are when people can come to a feeling of gratitude for their life and the life they had with their partner,” he said. “That’s a deeply moving experience.”
Before Pogue started his volunteer work, he went through a period of training at the hospice. One exercise in particular enlightened him about what the support group participants are going through. The volunteers were asked to write the names of three important people in their lives on a piece of paper, throw that piece of paper over their shoulder and then consider what it would be like to lose those people forever.
“You begin to appreciate what you have to learn about helping people,” Pogue said.
His volunteer work relates to his day job as a judge, Pogue noted. While he has studied relationships with his wife and taken university-level courses on the topic, “probably the most useful education was learning about negotiations” during his legal career, Pogue said. Negotiations, he said, are about finding a common ground and building toward a resolution. In similar fashion, the bereavement groups build up to a place of healing and understanding.
And the idea of an independent judiciary serving as a safe place to work
out decisions on the merits mirrors the safe haven that the hospice’s
support groups create for grieving widows. “The work I do at the hospice
reinforces the work I do in court,” Pogue said. “I think it teaches me
judicial temperament. I can step back and listen for what’s important.
We do move quickly in our day to day lives and the hospice experience
gives me appreciation for relationships.”