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“I’ve always been someone who has cared for people.”

At St Catherine’s Hospice more than 1,000 volunteers donate their time to support our work. Dorinda Gossage has volunteered as a Support Visitor for five years, visiting people who know they’re going to die or who are bereaved, in their own homes. Here, she shares more about her role.

“I’ve always been someone who has cared for people.

So becoming a Support Visitor was an extension of that. I walk beside people and offer them a safe place to open up without any judgement or prejudice. I always remember that people are the same person they always were, it just so happens that they or a loved one now have an illness.

At St Catherine’s, we don’t treat people as if all that matters is that they’re going to die. We teach people how to live and remind them that life can still be fulfilling even with a terminal illness.  

I don’t give advice. I’m just there to listen.

When I first visit people, naturally, they’re nervous but with encouragement they’re 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 don’t want to talk to their family and friends about their worries, because they don’t want to upset them but people can be more honest with me as I’m a stranger.

Generally, people find it hard to talk about death and bereavement,

And everyone responds in different ways. Sometimes people tell me they’re 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 and was worried she’d have a nervous breakdown. My listening helped her to normalise and work through her feelings. Another gentleman used our time together to talk about his funeral plans. This brought him comfort as he knew his family wouldn’t be left to guess his wishes or make decisions at a difficult time.

Many of the bereaved people I visit talk about feeling guilty that they weren’t 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 all the different 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’s a privilege to volunteer.

I’m proud to work with St Catherine’s and I’ve learnt so much from the Patient and Family Support Team. Their training is first rate and they’re really supportive. St Catherine’s is a wonderful place and volunteering here has allowed me to grow personally. I’m a better listener and I don’t judge people now. Volunteering is the best thing I’ve ever done.

There’s still more to do though.

There’s 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’s 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 don’t. I do my bit by volunteering, and by supporting St Catherine’s Full Circle Appeal you can do your bit too. Thank you.”

To find out more about volunteering for St Catherine’s, click here.

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