A day in the life of a Hospice Chaplain

According to the Revd Diane Lofthouse, Chaplain at St Gemma's Hospice, Leeds, common wishes at the end of life are: to be given the space to talk, and to be recognised and respected as an individual.

St Gemma's is one of the largest hospices in England. It provides care and comfort for people with terminal illnesses, and that includes help with their spiritual and emotional needs, as well as support for families and friends.

Diane says, “It’s a huge privilege to work here. At such a difficult time in their lives, patients often find it helps them to talk about their spirituality. This doesn't just mean their religious beliefs, but what gives them hope, strength and comfort.

"Spiritual Care is not just for patients either; the ripple effect of a terminal illness can be enormous, and so we’re also here to support families, friends and even neighbours who can be profoundly affected.

“Patients may have come from hospital where they invariably feel much more anonymous, so being able to spend significant time with them and to hear about their lives, and their thoughts and feelings is hugely important.

“There’s a huge range of spiritual and emotional needs. Those with faith sometimes feel very angry with God, and then guilty about feeling angry, so it’s important to give them permission to express their feelings. God is big enough to hear it. And patients often go through a grieving process themselves, for the life they’ll be missing out on.

“But St Gemma’s is also a surprisingly joyful place at times. We try and help people to have a really good end to their lives; for example, one of the nurses brought in an Elvis Presley impersonator for a very enthusiastic Elvis fan; it made her very happy in her final days.”

The hospice has a 32 bed in-patient unit, a community team and a day hospice - and a multi-disciplinary team. In  Leeds, if the patient is under St Gemma’s care, it’s St Gemma’s Clinical Nurse Specialists, rather than Macmillan nurses, who  go out into the community to care for their needs.

The Spiritual Care Team also look after the staff, and in her first 18 months in post, Diane has set up a monthly ‘Time for Remembering’ for staff and volunteers. She says, “While some people are only here for a few days, some patients are here for a long time. Staff and volunteers build up relationships with them and the continual sense of loss can be very hard, so staff support is a vital part of the role”.

In ’Time for Remembering’ people are invited to place a stone on a cairn in memory of those they have or are currently looking after. (See text of service below.)

Diane also holds Communion services on a Monday afternoon and any patient can come – even those who are bed bound as there are facilities to enable beds to be wheeled into the chapel. Diane says, “Our priority really is the patient.”

A Time for Remembering
A cairn is a marker on a journey or it can be placed in memory of someone we have cared about. It represents here, both the journey of life, for everything achieved in it and everyone who has been part of that journey.  I invite you to take a stone, if you wish, and hold it in your hand during this time of thanksgiving to remember the person, or people, you have in your heart, then lay your stone on the cairn, to represent your part in their life/lives. 

We place a stone for memories; for the memories of times together that reminded us of what it means to be human;

We place a stone for tears; for the tears that flow from our eyes as we remember the people who are special to us today; for the silent tears that no one else hears or sees;

We place a stone for strength; for the strength that comes from deep within and sustains us; for the strength that enables us to live each moment  of every day to the full; for the strength that allows forgiveness to heal the unfinished parts of our relationships; for the strength that allows us to remember those who have left their imprint on our hearts.

You may also want to light a candle and place it on our candle stand by the window in remembrance.

We light a candle for love; for the love we shared with those who have been so precious to us; for the love that flows deep within us that will never end; for the love that lifts up our spirits and our hearts.

We light a candle for joy; for the joy that gave birth to so many positive moments within lives shared;

We light a candle for hope; for the hopes and dreams and plans we have; for the hope that brings confidence for the future, with or without those we especially remember today.


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