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Gary has been a half-time hospice chaplain for 16 years now, the last 12 at Nightingale House Hospice in Wrexham, working as part of the Family Support Team and as the hospice chaplain providing spiritual and emotional support to patients, their families, carers and staff.
By spirituality, Gary explains that could mean anything that affects a person’s hopes, values or sense of meaning. “These are things that we all have in common and a person may express that spirituality through a religion, but a lot of us chose to express it by jumping out of aeroplanes from a great height and some of us do both. It’s the things that make us who we are that matter. Any life changing event may cause us to look at what we hold dear and what really matters to us and the job of a chaplain is to be there with someone as an independent ear to help someone explore what they think and come to their own conclusions – we never judge nor do we present our own solutions – although I have to say that I have got a number of family members interested and they’ve done fund raising tandems, even one of local funeral directors gave it a go. As part of what I do I work with a number of bereaved people at any one time, helping them cope with complex grief. All of us grieve in different ways and sometimes the circumstances leading up to or around a death can result in a more traumatic grief, which we try to help people come to terms with. On top of this I am a mindfulness teacher and teach groups regularly. Mindfulness is a technique that helps people cope with the situation they find themselves in, from ongoing pain for which there is no relief, to anxiety and fear over what is happening – basically living with everyday life.
In the current crisis, my hospice has managed to continue providing in-patient services, but most of our other on-site services have been suspended or adapted. All our outpatients and day patients are being supported by phone or video call instead of face to face support. Our Physios and Occupational Therapist are still supporting our in and out patients and using innovative ways e.g. YouTube videos so that our patients can continue to exercise. This works well with many of my clients and I continue to offer bereavement support and spiritual support this way and our mindfulness groups have continued via teleconferencing. Although I am not on site on a daily basis anymore, our staff who are can continue to do what they have always done, which is provide support directly themselves and then use me as a backup to talk through the issues and give advice over the phone. I am available both at the hospice and at the Wrexham Maelor Hospital (our local NHS hospital where I act as an on call chaplain to cover a 24/7 rota) to be called in if necessary for any patient that needs to talk but can’t use a phone or is at end of life.
Fortunately, a certain amount of visiting by a small number of close relatives is still currently possible at the hospice as we operate quite differently to a hospital but even here there is a much greater level of anxiety around not being able to visit someone you love before they die and we are continuing to support grieving relatives as best as we can and encouraging video call visits instead to prioritise the safety of all of our patients, their families and the staff that care for them.
As a chaplain I also take some funerals and I’m pleased to say that the two I have been involved with since the lockdown restrictions came into place have been dignified, respectful and appropriate for the families involved and we managed to live stream one and record the other so that those who were not able to be present could still be a part of the proceedings.”