Paul Dupuis pauses for a moment on Nov. 17 while working on a project in his woodworking shop in the basement of his Poland home. He gives the proceeds from the sale of any furniture he sells to The Hospice House of Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“I’ve been there.”

They are words of empathy, which flow frequently and genuinely from Paul Dupuis. The 78-year-old Poland resident can appreciate a tough living situation. When his house burned down in February 1972, it left him, his wife and three young children destitute. “I stood out in the street and cried like a man,” said Dupuis.

The stress was enough for Dupuis to have a nervous breakdown, but with the help of friends who were able to put him up, he was able to keep his family afloat. 

Dupuis is abundantly energetic, speaking with the laconic, slow drawl of a Maine accent. Dupuis’s spirited personality and joie de vivre manifests in zingers and self-deprecating one-liners that occupy alleyways in his pattern of speaking, a product of the relentless ribbing he endured during his time in the Navy.

A veteran who has never forgotten the service of others like him, he retired in 2007 and has since dedicated his life completely to helping others. “Volunteering, working with people in need, is such a wonderful thing to do,” Dupuis said.

He volunteers at Androscoggin Home Healthcare & Hospice in Lewiston, doing just about anything the nurses ask him to do, from cooking and physically feeding patients to sitting and comforting patients during their final moments.

Veterans in hospice are honored with a military pinning ceremony, something Dupuis proudly arranges, presenting them with two flags: one from their branch of the military and an American flag. “Military pinning to me is a very special honor, as far as paying tribute and respect to the individual who we’re doing the ceremony for,” Dupuis said.

Paul Dupuis rolls up a flag Wednesday while working on a project in his woodworking shop in the basement of his home in Poland. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Dupuis also works with bereaved families as well. Although he is not a licensed counselor, he conducts grief counseling with patients throughout their illness as well as group counseling with bereaved families and grief calling — checking in on family after the death. He began to volunteer regularly seven years ago after caring for a close friend who was stricken with colon cancer.

“There’s no such thing as getting around it,” Dupuis said. “You have to work your way through grief. It’s one of those things that’s lifetime, you have to learn to live with it. ”

In addition to his hospice work, Dupuis drives a transportation van for Disabled American Veterans in Lewiston and hands out toys to children during the holidays. He designs and builds furniture that he sells at auction. He uses lumber that is donated to him or paid by him, and the proceeds of the furniture go to The Hospice House of Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice, covering treatment for patients who aren’t insured.

Doing such tangible good leaves Dupuis with an inexplicable but profound satisfaction. “I don’t know if there’s any words to describe that. It makes me feel like I’m 7 feet tall, yet it makes me feel very weak, very humbled.”

Accolades for his deeds do not interest him and recognition embarrasses him. “Because other people do a lot more,” he said.

Dupuis considers his reward to be the time spent with family, especially his granddaughter. 

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