Christmas is such a special time for so many families, but for people with a life-limiting illness, Christmas is even more precious. Mary Glancy, Senior Healthcare Assistant at Rowcroft, gives a unique insight into how our staff and volunteers do everything possible to introduce a little sparkle to the hospice at Christmas time, to bring a bit of extra comfort for patients and families, many of whom will be facing their last Christmas together.
Rowcroft’s devoted care teams will be leaving their own families this Christmas, and working around the clock out in the community and in Rowcroft’s Inpatient Unit in Torquay, providing vital end-of-life care, support and advice to patients and their loved ones. Mary has been working at the hospice for nine years. Though she has seen plenty of changes over the years, and especially this year with COVID, the expert care provided by Mary and the team she works with has essentially remained the same – with patients’ choices at the very heart of everything they do.
“We are like one big family here at Rowcroft; we care so deeply for each other and for our patients and families,” says Mary. “I love my job because I know that our compassionate care makes such a difference. Yes it’s hard work, and it can be tiring, challenging and sometimes emotionally draining, but there are also moments of joy for our families, where memories are created to treasure forever. It’s such a privilege to be a part of that.”
Dawn Stirk of Torquay knows only too well what these precious memories mean. She reflects on how her husband Eric was cared for by Rowcroft before he died at the hospice on Christmas Eve 2010:
“Eric’s final deterioration came a few days before Christmas. I honestly believe that once Eric knew that Rowcroft was taking care of him, he could let go and slip peacefully away. That belief has allowed me to have only good memories of his last few days. I know how different it could have been without Rowcroft.
“One evening, people were singing Christmas carols in the gardens outside the hospice ward. Everything inside was still and quiet and the familiar Christmas tunes floating through the air were comforting. It felt like they were singing just for us.”
Ten years on, and the carol singing still floats through the hospice corridors – this year with videos of local school-children singing carols. Christmas cheer is all around, and the hospice is adorned with festive decorations (all COVID-safe): wonderful drawings by local schoolchildren; beautiful natural displays of holly and mistletoe; a stunning 8ft Christmas tree for the terrace (donated by Marldon Christmas Tree Farm); and in the gardens, fun 3D lights of a snowman and reindeer (donated by Finish Electrical). And with the help of local businesses, staff are creating Christmas pamper packs for patients.
“With the amazing support of our local community who help us in so many ways, we can bring a little Christmas sparkle to the hospice,” says Mary. “All the festive decorations really help to brighten up the hospice, and to lift everyone’s spirits, and the Christmas lunch with all the trimmings is a real treat!”
The hospice philosophy is to create a home-from-home environment where possible – using soft furnishings, comfy sofas and traditional furniture. It all goes such a long way in making the hospice spaces as relaxing, calming and comfortable as possible. There is also a beautiful spiritual room known as the ‘Sanctuary’ – a peaceful, welcoming and inclusive space that families can use for rest, reflection or prayer.
Throughout the festive period, the hospice team do their best to create an enchanting Christmas atmosphere:
“The staff and volunteers usually gather on Christmas eve for carol singing,” says Mary. “It’s just magical to hear the sounds of singing drifting around the rooms of the hospice. This year, due to COVID, it will be a little bit more low key, but we still have a small group who will gather for carol singing on the terrace. One year, we even used a snow-machine to create a white Christmas for our patients! We set it up on the roof, so that the snow settled on the lawns. It was just magical.”
These magical moments create memories that stay with loved ones forever. Ten years on, and Dawn still remembers with fondness the care shown by Rowcroft:
“For Eric and I, Christmas was our favourite time of year. When people find out that he died on Christmas Eve, their usual reaction is ‘how awful for you – Christmas must be really difficult now’. But I say quite the opposite: the combination of the care shown by Rowcroft and the memory of those carols mean that far from Christmas being difficult, I can still say that Christmas is my favourite time of year and for that, I am eternally grateful to Rowcroft.”
Rowcroft’s ‘Tree of Light’, situated in Rowcroft’s gardens, shines brightly through the festive season, lit brightly with hundreds of lights to ‘Light up a Life’ of loved ones lost. If you would like to make a dedication on the Tree of Light, to remember and celebrate someone special this Christmas, you can do so by visiting rowcrofthospice.org.uk/light