Key to the success of ellenor, the charity offering support to those with life-limiting illnesses and their families, is the support of our volunteers. Their commitment, energy and enthusiasm are crucial in enabling us to carry out our work. So often, those who volunteer with us have their own connections that have brought them to the charity – and they will often say, too, that they feel they gain as much from their work with us as they give. Here, Suzanne Wood tells her story.
“My husband Chris died in April 2019 under ellenor’s care, having been suffering from a brain tumour. It was a terrible time but the support we got from the nursing team was like having a comfort blanket thrown round you – that really is how it felt. After Chris’s death, I belonged to the Walk and Talk bereavement group that ellenor run, and the support there was also really helpful – you meet others in the same position, so you all really understand one another and what we’re all going through. I’ve made some real friends through the group.
I worked in healthcare for over 30 years but stopped when Chris became ill. Now, I’m in a position where I can take things more slowly and do what works best for me at the moment. I took a form about volunteering for ellenor at the end of last year - I had my eye on helping out with taking orders in the Coffee Shop – but I didn’t feel ready to start until February of this year. Great timing: I’d been coming in for a few mornings a week and then Covid-19 struck. At that point, because of lockdown, only ellenor’s staff were accessing the coffee shop, meaning I was moved to the Host Desk. This is a new initiative for ellenor. I gather, previously, it was more like a receptionist role, where the front-desk person would answer the phones, too. Now, though, the role is solely about meeting-and-greeting.
I’m a “Host” at ellenor, one of the first people visitors to the hospice encounter, and on the practical side, the front doors no longer open automatically as a precaution against the spread of Covid-19, meaning I have to let everyone in. I describe myself as the hand-washing police, no one gets past me unless they’re well sanitised! I’ve got to grips with the post and deliveries come to me. Now I have a better idea where to direct it. I’ve certainly found out a great deal about who works where and what they do within ellenor in the past few months.
The most important part of the job involves communication and support. Recently, a relative came in to place a leaf on the Memory Tree that we have on display in the community café area for those who’ve died in ellenor’s care. I had plenty of time to chat to him, something that’s particularly important at the moment, when our day-to-day contact with one another is so limited. He knew that I understood what he was going through, and I knew that he knew what I was going through – it really was a two-way street. I know from my own experience that being able to share that sort of time with someone else in the same situation can make a real difference. This is an aspect of the host role that I find particularly appealing.
Working for ellenor has been every bit as beneficial for me as I hope it’s been for the charity. It’s got me through what might otherwise have been an extremely difficult time. Chris only died just over a year ago, and my grown-up children, Tom and Louisa, don’t live with me, so being able to keep busy and useful through volunteering in a time of much-reduced opportunities has been invaluable. As a family, we’ve also fundraised for ellenor, with a very successful Golf Day that we held in Chris’s memory last year. But as far as my volunteering is concerned, it’s the time spent with other people that really stands out for me. I am the sort of person who’s happy to chat to anyone, my professional life helped me develop that skill . Much of the time, it isn’t about deep conversations at ellenor, though often, it’s just chatting informally about everyday things with those who come into the hospice. Somehow, those of us who are coping with loss intuitively know that we are with others who truly ‘get’ it’ – even if that knowledge is unspoken. The end result, for me certainly, I that you don’t feel you’re alone.”