I offer people a safe place to open up. As a Support Visitor I walk beside people and offer them a safe place to open up without any judgement or prejudice. At St Catherine’s we do not treat people as if all that matters is that they are going to die. We teach people how to live and remind them that life can still be fulfilling even with a terminal illness.
I do not give advice. I am just there to listen. When I first visit people, naturally, they are nervous but with encouragement they are usually glad to open up. I talk with people about good things in their lives as well as about things that are worrying them. Often people do nott want to talk to their family and friends about their worries, because they do not want to upset them, but people can be more honest with me as I am a stranger.
Generally, people find it hard to talk about death and bereavement, and everyone responds in different ways. Sometimes people tell me they are feeling angry, whilst other people describe feeling numb or sad. One lady I visited had a partner who was dying. She confided in me that she was struggling to cope but my listening helped her to normalise and work through her feelings. Another gentleman used our time together to plan his funeral. This brought him comfort as he knew his family would not be left to make decisions at a difficult time.
Many of the bereaved people I visit talk about feeling guilty that they were not there when their loved one died. They obsess over the person’s death and how it happened but I remind them that everything they did for, and with, the person during their life is the important thing. Sometimes helping people to refocus on the times they were there for someone, before and during their illness, allows them to experience a natural sense of rebalancing between one moment and a lifetime of moments. This can often ease their feelings of guilt.
It is a privilege to volunteer. I am proud to work with St Catherine’s and I have learnt so much from the hospice’s Patient and Family Support Team. Their training is first rate and they are really supportive. St Catherine’s is a wonderful place and volunteering has allowed me to grow personally. It is the best thing I have ever done.
There is still more to do though. There is always a waiting list for our Support Visitor service and as soon as our sessions with someone finish we start visiting someone new. We provide people with extra support when it is needed most and I wonder who people would turn to without us. Nobody should face death and dying alone. We all have a responsibility to make sure they do not. Please do what you can to support St Catherine’s. Your support makes sure I, my fellow volunteers, and St Catherine’s staff can continue to help people in our local community.
For more information visit St Catherine’s Hospice
Volunteers’ Week runs till Thursday 7 June.