Supporting palliative clients and their families with a trained volunteer that provides companionship as they navigate their end-of-life journey is a vital part of Palliative Care South East’s (PCSE) service.
It’s part of the holistic care we offer as we change the focus from curing a condition to making clients as comfortable as possible and giving them the best quality of life for however long they have left.
Around 25% of our palliative clients are widows and our companion volunteers can ease the pain of loneliness that many clients experience after being diagnosed with a life-limiting or terminal illness.
We have an extraordinary group of individuals who volunteer to befriend the dying and accompany them on their journey. Some of them are experienced carers who nursed their own loved ones through a terminal illness. They are all strong, kind, compassionate individuals who provide an unhurried listening ear.
They visit our clients weekly. Sometimes they take them out shopping, for coffee, a walk or lunch but, mostly, they spend time with them and let them share their thoughts and feelings.
“I always think it’s about giving a neutral ear, somebody they can talk to who is anonymous and not part of the family. They can talk about the heavy things. They can talk about the fact they’re dying without me stopping them talking about that,” volunteer companion Natalie Irvine explains.
“You are sharing this journey with somebody and if you can lessen the burden somewhat it’s a great privilege to be able to do it,” she adds.
This year, Natalie has a client who enjoys karaoke so the shared interest is a highlight of her regular visits which include singalongs.
“To be honest with you, when these people come around, I forget my sickness actually and I feel good and I just start singing and enjoying the day,” her client Ivan D’Cruz explains. The 87-year-old also benefits from music therapy with our allied health team.
Volunteers like Natalie help keep the spirits of our clients alive as their bodies deteriorate.
“I remind them they are still living and help them continue to do things they enjoy like shopping or going out for lunch, engaging in conversation about life, love and the world. I’m not afraid of their fate as I’ve travelled this road before,” the twice widowed Gwen said.
“I see the living soul that needs a companion and bring them out into the sunshine. Sometimes I help people, who don’t have much to smile about, laugh.”
Gwen also recognises the support this service provides to families and, in particular, the respite it gives carers who can become socially isolated whilst caring for a loved one.
“My support means they can go lunch with friends and stay connected to their community and those who can support them through the grief,” she said.
Our Companions Volunteers are carefully matched with clients. The matching process takes into account their interests and needs as well as their location and proximity to each other. The volunteers visit weekly throughout the client’s journey with PCSE.