The care St Christopher’s Hospice gave my mum, and us, was just beyond words really. They really get death and dying there. Dame Cicely Saunders, who founded the hospice in 1967, wanted to provide a service which supported the ill, the dying and the bereaved; a holistic support that recognised the practical, emotional, social, and spiritual need of each individual. She saw the dying person and the family as the unit of care and she developed bereavement services at St Christopher’s Hospice to extend support beyond the death of the patient. St Christopher’s continue to provide the most exceptional support to the dying and their families and keep her famous words “you matter because you are you…you matter until the last moment of your life” firmly embedded in their daily practice and interactions with every individual that walks through their doors.
So many people said to me, “don’t do that Annie, that’s so morbid”. I would have thought so too if I hadn’t been forced through those doors through my own experience, but honestly we couldn’t be more wrong. I reckon everyone could enjoy hanging out with the patients there, once the stigma was stamped out. I’m not claiming it is some kind of heavenly place filled only with joy; of course you see and hear people’s sadness, tears, pain…but if we have our eyes open, don’t we see that everywhere? Isn’t that just unavoidable wherever we are? The only difference is that this place has been named ‘a place for people to die’.
I treasure my experience of seeing my mum die and having trained as a clinical volunteer at the hospice and spending more and more time with the dying and the dead, I find it a privilege. And a lot of the time, I enjoy the company more than I do with those who live like they’re immortal; there’s nothing quite like the sense of humour of someone who truly knows they are going to die.