The Oxford English Dictionary defines the following words thus :-

Hospice,  noun 1. Home for (esp. terminally) ill or destitute people.

  1. Travellers’ lodgings kept by religious order etc.

Move down the page a little and we have

Hospitality,  noun, friendly and generous reception of guests or strangers. Cordiality, courtesy, friendliness, generosity, sociability, warmth, welcome.

I have asked several people who I happen to have had contact with today, what the word Hospice means to them.

My Carpenter said simply, “It’s where you go to die”.

His mate said, “Yeah, when you’ve got cancer.”

The lady at the Post office said, “It’s where they send you when the hospital can’t do anymore for you.”

The Chimney Sweep thought carefully and then replied that it was, “A place of specialist care, the sort of care that you can’t get in a hospital”.

My son said, “Two things; an outstanding place to go to that is a comfortable and safe environment; surrounded by caring staff and the opportunity to die with dignity.”

“And the second thing?” I prompted.

“Well, if you want to stay at home to die, nurses come to you and look after you in the same caring way.” He thought for a moment. “Then, of course, there’s the support network for those that are losing or have lost someone they love”.

My son, like all my children, know because they have suffered the pain of losing their father and have experienced all what the Norfolk Hospice has to offer.

But in fact, it offers a lot more than even my son stated. It offers Occupational Therapy, Physio Therapy, it offers patients’ specialist advice on a whole range of symptoms on a whole range of illnesses. How to deal with breathing difficulties, a very pertinent problem for patients with heart disease.  How to get the very best out of limited mobility, and much, much, more.

The Hospice is not just for cancer patients, my husband had Parkinson’s disease. The Hospice is for any illness, and for everyone. Just as an illness doesn’t discriminate, the Hospice is there for every religion, every creed, and for those with no faith or religion. To use a well quoted phrase. ‘Either everyone matters or no-one matters.’ Here at The Norfolk Hospice everyone matters.

In the Horizon program ‘We need to talk about Death’. Dr Kevin Fong explores this taboo subject. We must all die, we have no choice, but barring accidents or natural disasters, we should have a choice about how and where we die.

Here are some comments, from the Horizon program, aired by an elderly patient who was nearing the end of his journey through life. He had recently been moved from a care home to a Hospice.

He said that in the care home he had become envious of people who were dying and leaving ‘It’ all behind. The ‘It’ being the pain, the misery, the fear. He was now alert and smiling, he said he was enjoying real sleep, he was enjoying food again. The new medication regime administered by the Palliative Care Team, was keeping him pain free and enabling him to prepare for, in his words “A happy death.”

Another elderly patient was happy because his family and he were all getting to the same place at the same time, they valued the time that enabled them all to prepare for “a good letting go [of each other]”.

At some point in our lives we must think about these issues and we must ask, “Where do I want to die and where do I want my loved ones to die? Research suggests that only 3% of people want to die in hospital, yet that’s exactly where at least 50% of people in Britain do die.

By this time I have probably lost a good many of my readers. It’s extremely uncomfortable to think or talk about death in a general way. It’s so much more uncomfortable and frightening to think, let alone talk, about our own deaths. It’s becoming personal and I have an image of readers putting their hands over their ears and eyes! And that’s okay, but uncover those eyes and read on anyway.

I will be seventy-two this year. Did I fear death when I was a young woman? Of course. I had a husband that I loved very much. I had children that depended on me and needed me, I had a life to live, a world to explore. Do I fear death now? Not in the least, my beloved husband has already taken that unknown path. My children are grown and have children of their own. I have explored my world and I have lived my life and the circle of life happily goes on. Not that I want to bale out just yet. I still have stuff I want to do, more importantly, I still have something to offer others.

For the young and middle-aged this may come as a comfort, “for everything, there is a season……..a time to be born and a time to die”*, the older one gets the more accepting one becomes.

Oxford English Dictionary

Palliative Care :-  adjective,  alleviating, calming, reassuring, soothing.

noun, a thing that alleviates anxiety, pain etc.

It surprised me to learn that some patients can have palliative care for quite a long time, even years, reading the definition above makes it quite obvious. Think of Stephen Hawkins, for instance. It’s also a fact that many patients will come into the hospice for end of life care, only to find that a few weeks later they are going home to their families; the palliative care having improved their lives beyond recognition. Relieving them of symptoms such as pain, nausea and breathlessness.  Another fact is that, patients often not only improve the quality of their lives, the quantity of life improves also. The earlier one gets this type of care, the better the outcome.

I have visited the Hospice, many, many times. First of all in my brand new role in life ‘Widow’. A label that still can make my mouth dry and my eyes moist. But that is all it is, a label. Much like all the other roles I’ve played in my life, daughter, wife, mother, writer, farmer, designer, grandmother, mother-in-law, and even great grandmother! And above it all I am still me and I am still learning, perhaps one of the most surprising lessons for me was that the Hospice is a happy place, it is a place where life is celebrated and pain, despondency and even dying is no longer something to fear. Walk through those doors and one is surrounded by love, one is greeted like a precious and important member of a family, the Hospice family. A place where both physical and mental needs are catered for and helped by highly trained, compassionate and devoted staff. A place where there is always, always, someone there to talk to, and someone who will always listen. The Hospice is a sanctuary for everyone, be you a patient, a relative, a friend, or one of our wonderful volunteers. And a huge, huge, acknowledgment and an equally huge thank you to all those that fundraise. Those that run marathons and other amazing feats and those that sponsor them, the firms that donate to us, all the individuals who dip their hands in their pockets.  And a big thank you to you, for reading this article.

Susan Campbell 6th February 2019

*Ecclesiastes Chapter 3