I’ve been supporting families for just under a year as a Helper volunteer. On hearing I volunteer with Marie Curie my friends, family and colleagues often asked what it is I do. The simple answer is that I’m trained to make regular visits to a family that I’m matched with, to provide a friendly ear. When you’re living with a terminal illness the little things like sitting having a cup of tea or running an errand for someone, can make a big difference.
As for why I do it, that’s easy. George, my dad. At 79 years old he was told that he had terminal cancer and after seeing both his parents pass away in hospital he’d no desire to do the same. It was very much my dad’s request to remain at home if he could. I strongly believe that most people, if given the option, will want to remain at home at the end of their life, pain free, with the people who love them the most. That is what my family endeavoured to accomplish, and with the help of the GP and the healthcare team we were able to do this for him – something we’re really proud of achieving for my deserving dad.
That was five years ago. I found myself with a bit more time last August and I felt Marie Curie was a good way to give something back. I wanted to help other families do what we did, if that’s what they had chosen to do, and to meet some lovely people. I was matched with Winnie, who was living with terminal cancer, and was being cared for at home. I met Maureen and her sisters and Winnie’s husband Pat, who had his own health issues. And so I started visiting every week for a few hours. At the beginning I would sit with Winnie, chatting with her about her life and our shared love of knitting. She had a good sense of humour.
Family members would take Pat out for a walk while I was there. At times it would just be Winnie and me in the house, next minute it would be really busy. The occupational therapist or the priest would come in or someone would come to fit the stairlift. There were family members coming and going. But I always felt welcome and felt the love that the family shared in the house. And sadly, later, towards the end, apprehension over what was to come.
The last time I saw Winnie was just before Christmas and I sat with her and when she asked, reassured her that Pat was just out for a short walk and Maureen and her sisters would be here soon. And she fell back into a deep comfortable sleep, peacefully waiting for them.
When I left that day Maureen was with her mum, playing her favourite music, and Winnie passed away an hour or so after I left. I was asked to the funeral service at the local church.
I’ve seen Pat twice since then, going out for coffee, finding out about local groups and activities that he could do. He is quite cheerful but he is still adjusting and it’s difficult for the family as he has short term memory loss. I think we’re all worried that he’ll become lonely but I don’t think he’ll get the chance. He has carers visiting him four times a day and Maureen and her sisters are still there for him. I’ll be seeing him in a week or two and it will probably be the last time I see him, as I move on to supporting another family. This month its Marie Curie’s big fundraising appeal month, the Great Daffodil Appeal. I’d urge you to donate and wear your daffodil pin to show your support for families like Winnie’s.
If youwould like to do something similar to me and become a Helper volunteer, take the next step and get in touch. It is one of the most valuable things you can do for others, at one of the hardest times for them.
Elaine Jorgenson is a Marie Curie Helper volunteer in Grampian