It’s hard to be ill and nearing the end of your life, it’s a very difficult thing. The Helper volunteer role that I do is about providing company and support through this, and is incredibly necessary. The role is a befriending role, but it’s bespoke – you can do whatever the client would like, within reason. My current client doesn’t want to impose on her friends and family – but she can ask me to do practical things, like going to the bank or the dentist with her, or reading letters from the hospital that she’s not sure she understands. With my first client, we used to watch this dreadful Portuguese soap; truly, it was awful. I don’t speak Portuguese, but I ended up knowing all the characters and the stories. We really laughed – it was great.
It’s about having fun with someone who isn’t family. Giving support and friendship, and being there for them. Being human really, and connecting.
I was motivated to start volunteering as a Helper because of my own illness – Marie Curie were wonderful to me. When I was sick I was referred to the Marie Curie Hampstead Hospice as a day patient, and the care I received there was wonderful. I also had a MacMillan counsellor who would come and spend an hour and a half with me each week. She was brilliant. We’d sit at the bottom of the garden in summer and talk, we got on very well. I felt very lucky to have her, as she wasn’t a friend or family member – I didn’t feel like I was burdening her as you can sometimes with those close to you. My care at the hospice made me want to give something back, and I realised that not everyone had the support that I did.
As a Helper, you can be with people for a long time, or very short. Obviously you get attached, because you’re human and you wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t care. But you can’t go through life without losing people, that’s just how life works. And the joy outweighs any sadness. People are so appreciative; it’s really important to them, and you can feel that. Anytime you have a laugh, the happy experiences you share with a client, those are the best moments.
I know that my mother would have loved this service. There must be so many people out there who need this support; it really is such a necessary thing that everyone should have access to. I’d like to see it everywhere – worldwide!