“Once this is all sorted…”

I thought I’d leave a moment to breathe after my first triple whammy blog posting….but now I am about to go on tour with my band so I wanted to fill you in on the next phase of the death journey before I head off for two weeks…

The first time you meet your patient you are chaperoned with a member of staff from the hospice. I knew very little about Mary, something that I am sure is orchestrated deliberately by the hospice. I now see clearly that they want the relationship to be developed entirely by patient and volunteer….so they leave no room for preconceptions or judgments. It was obvious on our first meeting that Mary was fierce and loudly independent– absolutely adamant that I was only there to help her temporarily for a very specific task of taking her to the dentist and then I should be on my merry way to help someone who had more pressing needs. Two things I know I felt then, but was not really able to name at the time were relief that she was old, and gratitude that she was (albeit on the surface) strong and independent. Looking back, I can see that as I took her number and said farewell until our next meeting at the dentist, I hadn’t quite cottoned on to how much things were to change and how much I had to learn.

The truth is, that whilst a relatively well, and elderly end-of-life patient seemed to be the best referral I could wish for, it turned out to be for those very reasons that she has been the most challenging for me emotionally. I didn’t realise it until I was sitting with Mary in the waiting room of the oncology ward of Guys, about to go in and get results from a CT scan. Mary chatted away, as she normally does and started saying again how once this was all over she could go and travel across the other side of the world to see her family. I knew right then that she was yet to experience that moment where she accepted that she was dying – and I, as her support volunteer, was going to be there to watch that gigantic shift in her thinking and very way of existing. This was an experience I had only too recently gone through with mum….and it was one I had not anticipated going through when working in a hospice…in fact one of the reasons I had chosen to work in the hospice was because I thought I would be surrounded by people who were facing death with open arms – open eyes at the very least. On top of this, mum was also a strong, feisty and independent woman, so once more I found myself supporting someone who was not only difficult to help but who’s future I had already seen.

At first, my way of dealing with this, quite unintentionally, was to commit almost as much time to Mary as I did to mum; a few weeks in I was visiting her a minimum of 3 times a week, going to at least one hospital trip, one dentist trip and spending one afternoon at her house knitting.

I lasted about 2 months and then I found myself at my first support group meeting at the hospice. It was just what I needed…

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