Hannah Wilson is a volunteer Pastoral Assistant offering people we care for a space to share what’s meaningful for them. She tells us more about her volunteering.
“He would sing to me over the phone, it was magic”
“My husband, John died at St Catherine’s 10 years ago. Hospices are unique places.
In my experience hospices have a holistic approach to caring for each person, providing both physical, emotional and spiritual care
When John was ill, as well as looking after him, St Catherine’s looked after me and my daughter too. We were offered complementary therapies, and the whole atmosphere at the hospice meant we felt safe, held and loved at such a difficult time. We were offered practical and emotional support even after my husband died. St Catherine’s continued to support us, and my experience was so positive.
I was so humbled by the love and support we all experienced during that time that I wanted to find a way to give back
I started volunteering at the then Day Hospice at Woodhatch and later in Caterham. Before lockdown, Lisa, St Catherine’s Spiritual Care Lead gave a talk to the patients and I thought I’d like to support the work she does. With a background in social care services I felt I had something to offer that team and joined as a volunteer Pastoral Assistant.
I view each person as a whole person with a past and present rather than a patient or carer
When you’re ill, you’re often only seen as a ‘patient’, but each patient or carer I speak to has a whole previous life, career, hobbies, skills – I may be the only person they can talk to about these
Before coronavirus I’d visit people at home and also on the wards. I found face to face contact very moving, but now all my contacts are done on the telephone. I’ll make an introduction call to someone then arrange a good time to call them and agree frequency. Calls normally last 30-60 minutes and continue as long as the person finds it helpful.
I’m never quite sure what I’ll be presented with when I ring someone, but I’m there to offer a listening ear and show an interest. Listening is such an important skill and over the phone there are no none verbal queues.
Every conversation is different, that’s what makes it so interesting. Some people talk a lot, others not so much
Many people find it easier to open up to someone outside their family
People share their fears and anxieties, joy and interests. Sometimes people talk about facing their mortality and how they feel about that. Other times patients approaching death want to talk about their spirituality. Whatever people want to discuss, I listen with an open mind and without making assumptions
And I learn from every person I speak to, especially with how they deal with challenges they face and what it is that makes them tick. Everyone can be a teacher to us if we keep an open mind. When I hear how someone has embraced a situation or coped with a challenge, I often think how can I apply that in my own life? It can be a humbling experience.
It is a real privilege to be given a window into someone’s life
I enjoy making connections and I’m touched by how much people, who I’ve never met, are willing to share with me.
One elderly gentleman I rung was a jazz singer and musician who’d sing to me on the phone. It was magic. Our calls gave him an outlet to express himself and his treasured skill, and it was lovely for me to validate his interests
Another person was a carer. She talked about the personal cost of caring for a relative and what she had willingly given up to do that. It reminded me of what unsung heroes carers are.
Once I called a younger person who was very distressed. That was hard, but she needed to express how she felt and to cry openly.
Another time I was speaking to someone who was really poorly. He knew he didn’t have long left, but he wanted to talk to me about some spiritual experiences he had experienced that he couldn’t explain.
My role is all about facilitating what people want to share to validate their feelings.
One of the things I’ve found most surprising is people’s acceptance of their situation and circumstances
When someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness, they have to accept they’re not in control anymore. Many people do and focus on making the most of the time they’ve got. In my experience, the people who find difficulty accepting their illness are the ones who really struggle. Those people who more readily accept their situation are more able to find peace of mind, and often gain solace from that.
I don’t take things for granted anymore
Volunteering with the hospice has given me an appreciation of what I have in my life today and an appreciation of the here and now. I don’t take things for granted anymore.
If I talk to people who are bereaved, I hope it helps them to feel less isolated
When a loved one dies people don’t want to upset you by talking about that person but that may be exactly what is needed. I remember feeling isolated myself after John died.
Talking about a loved one and expressing loss and grief is all part of the healing process. Helping someone express these feelings can also be part of my role
St Catherine’s volunteering team are amazing
I am supported in my role by Lisa the Chaplain and Spiritual Care Lead, and also by the Volunteering Team. This team demonstrate the same hospice ethos in attention to detail in how they support volunteers both individually and collectively. They know each of us individually, and I know if I ever have a query regarding any aspect of volunteering I can contact them and receive a prompt response.
I enjoy being involved with St Catherine’s. I believe everybody has a skill to offer St Catherine’s and the hospice needs volunteers with a range of skills and qualities.”