"It makes you feel safe at a time when you just wouldn’t think that was possible"
Sitting in the heart of The Hospice at the nurses’ station, Jo Carpenter volunteers her skills four hours each week to support with duties such as answering phone calls from relatives checking on family members. Eleven years ago, Jo was on the other side of the desk when her dad stayed at The Hospice for three weeks. This is Jo’s story…
I was following the ambulance on the way to The Hospice and I was so upset. I was thinking this is going to be the last journey my dad is going to make; this is it. He really was not in a good way at all.
But they sorted him out and got him comfortable and looked after him so well. It’s a home from home really. The family members are looked after too. My mum slept there most nights in the chair next to his bed and she was made to feel so supported as well.
It was obvious he hadn’t got much longer to live, but he so wanted to die at home. St Helena was able to get his symptoms under control so he could do that.
Having experienced that, it gave me a totally different perspective on what The Hospice is. Somehow it manages not to be a morbid place, quite the reverse in fact, and it’s not just somewhere people go to die. It ‘wraps you up’ and makes you feel safe at a time when you just wouldn’t think that was possible.
It is scary having someone who is that poorly at home and it was hard for my mum. It is difficult looking after someone when you never know what is going to happen. I think at St Helena they take that responsibility away so you can just be there in a loving relative capacity, rather than having to do the care as well.
My dad had been ill for such a long time. He’d been diagnosed in 1997 and told that he’d probably have a couple of years. He lived for nearly ten years. Although it was really great that he had so much longer, the whole of that time there’s a dark cloud over you. You are always thinking, is this going to be his last Christmas; is this going to be his last this or that?
So I suppose we as a family did an element of grieving beforehand and I suppose there was a sense of relief when he was not suffering anymore.
Death changes the dynamics of the whole family. I felt like I had lost a part of my mum as well at the time, due to the inevitable impact on her. I think we came out of it not too bad really. We’re a close family which probably helps.
Christmas was really hard at first. Everyone has those family traditions. My dad always used to carve the turkey (he struggled to do it on his last Christmas, a couple of months or so before he died, which became a painful memory) and sit in his place at the table. It all just seems wrong when that person isn’t there anymore. It isn’t ever the same again but you get used to a new normal in time.
Like everyone, I have had tough, challenging periods in my life and these have at times made me feel low. In these times I have thought to myself what am I going to do about this? What can I do to help myself here? And I think two of the things I can do is 1) keep busy, which leaves less time to think about the problems I have going on in my life; and 2) I think a really positive thing to do when you are low or depressed, is to do something to help other people. Instead of just looking into yourself, you’re looking out. You’re kind of helping yourself by helping others. I feel that’s worked for me.
The experience I had with my dad also motivated me to want to do something to help others, to give something back.
I said to someone at St Helena once I’m just a volunteer and she said ‘never say that; you’re not ‘just’ a volunteer!’ This time round I’ve been volunteering for a few months but I did volunteer with St Helena previously for a few years on reception on Saturday mornings, before I had my first child.
There are times when I stress over matters that are really only trivial in the grand scheme of things but I know as soon as I walk into The Hospice it just puts everything into perspective and I think that’s a really positive thing in my life. When times might seem a bit tough, it gives me a sense of balance and I feel grateful for what I have.
That’s an important thing to have in your life; that balance, that perspective, which I think volunteering with St Helena brings.
The Hospice is a very special place and I am proud to be part of it.
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SinglePoint is a 24/7 advice and support helpline which helps to coordinate an individual’s care with the hospice. SinglePoint also works alongside other healthcare services such as GPs, Community Nurses or Specialists.
To contact a patient at The Hospice please find the address and telephone number below. Phone calls can be made to patients at any time of the day or week. You can contact Inpatient Services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The Hospice, Myland Hall, Barncroft Close, Highwoods, Colchester, C04 9JU
Telephone: 01206 845 566
You can contact The Hospice in the Home Team Monday to Friday, between 9.00am and 5.00pm on:
Telephone: 01206 845 566
Tendring community team
Telephone: 01255 221 222
You can contact the Joan Tomkins Centre (Colchester) Monday to Friday between 9.00am and 5.00pm on:
Telephone: 01206 848 163
Fax: 01206 752 245
You can contact the St Helena Tendring Centre (Clacton) Monday to Friday, between 9.00am and 5.00pm on 01255 221 222
Tendring Centre Postcode for Sat Navs: CO15 1EU
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If you, or a member of your family has a life-limiting illness and would like to discuss whether St Helena care services can help, you can contact the SinglePoint telephone service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 01206 890 360
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For more information on the St Helena Service User Group please contact Chair, Ken Aldred on 01206 751 397
To contact the Lottery team please call 0800 285 1390 or visit the website here, Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm.
If you would like to write to or visit the Lottery team, the address is: Your Hospice Lottery Office Unit 6 The Atrium, Phoenix Square, Wyncolls Road, Colchester CO4 9AS.
Feedback, comments and complaints about St Helena care and support services may be made verbally or in writing to: Director of Care, St Helena, Myland Hall, Barncroft Close, Highwoods, Colchester, CO4 9JU. To speak to a member of our team, call 01206 845 566