What’s it like spending Christmas Day at the hospice?
I joined St Wilfrid’s Hospice in November 2022 as the new Trust and Foundation Fundraiser.
When an e-mail landed in my inbox asking for volunteers on the Inpatient Unit (IPU) over Christmas, I was excited to offer my help. Having worked in domiciliary care work for a number of years, I’m no stranger to working on Christmas Day. I often miss the contact with patients, so I was grateful for the opportunity.
Arriving on Christmas morning
The morning of my volunteer shift I felt more nervous than expected. Despite having worked many Christmases supporting people in their own homes, I wasn’t sure what to expect in a hospice. I was acutely aware that for many of those I would see today it would be their last Christmas. How should I act? Should I bring the festive spirit, or be more subdued?
When I arrived for my 12pm shift, the mood in the hospice was cheerful and I was greeted by one of our lovely volunteers. I got changed into my scrubs and headed down to the volunteer area, where I was met by one of the regular Host Volunteers who was smiling and preparing trays, practically on autopilot. I instantly relaxed, knowing I was in very capable hands.
Side note: our Host Volunteers are fantastic. Many of them have had someone close to them die in the hospice and give up a lot of their time to ‘pay back’ for the care their loved ones received here. It’s incredibly admirable to hear their stories and I am in constant awe of their kindness, knowledge and dedication.
Dinner is served
We bustled about, preparing to serve dinner and making drinks. I followed instructions and tried to be as helpful as possible. I spent time familiarising myself with the patients and their preferences to ensure everyone got what they needed.
The Christmas dinners arrived ready for us to serve – beautiful plates stacked with turkey and all the trimmings (plus delicious vegetarian alternatives) – to the patients and their loved ones. We pushed the trolley round and delivered the meals to each room, along with warm Christmas puddings for a sweet treat.
Moments I will cherish
Although I’m a bit of a Grinch generally, I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend Christmas Day. I was relieved to see one of the patients wearing a ‘Bah Humbug’ hat – I knew we’d get along well. I complimented him on his hat and we laughed together, a moment I will cherish
Another patient handed each of us a card with ‘Be Lucky’ written on the envelope – inside hid a scratch card for each of us with the words ‘Thank you for being you’ written inside. I nearly cried at this incredibly kind gesture (I didn’t win, although I was secretly grateful for this as I would’ve much preferred one of the regular volunteers to instead!)
Family members ebbed in and out throughout the shift, each one of them stopping to thank me for being here. I felt undeserving of this praise compared to the staff and volunteers who work tirelessly, 24/7, to support these patients. I was grateful nonetheless.
At 4pm my shift was finished, and I went home with a full heart. I spent the rest of the evening with my husband, grateful for the perspective on what really matters at Christmas time, making a mental note to be less grinchy next year and more grateful for the privilege to be able to celebrate these moments.