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For many people facing the end of life, this year will be their last Christmas, and often it is their wish to spend it with loved ones. Di Turner is a clinical nurse specialist and one of the Hospice in the Home nurses who visit people across north east Essex, and she has seen more than 30 Christmases in her time at St Helena Hospice. Di offers physical, emotional and practical support, to help patients keep comfortable so they can enjoy time spent with loved ones. She said:
“Christmas can be hard for any of us at any time because we remember people who have died and that can be really challenging for any of us. However, when you're facing a life threatening illness, I'm sure it must be even worse, so our aim is to try to bring a bit of a lighter moment to them, and that can be in many ways.
“The obvious thing is trying to get their symptoms under control so they can then hopefully spend what may be their last Christmas with their family in a more meaningful way, and enjoy the day as much as they can for what it is.
“It's also about supporting them to try to make memories. Naturally, families can be very focused on a last Christmas. It's all about trying to help those family members to make the best of a bad situation, to try to keep everything quite calm and comfortable, but allowing some fun as well. Particularly if there's young children in the house, there’s still got to be as much as a normal Christmas as it can be for them. The patient wants their Christmas to be special, particularly so the people left after they have died can actually remember that time and hopefully reflect and look back in the years to come, on what was potentially their last Christmas together as a family.
“Patients sometimes worry they're going to be in the way and spoil their family’s Christmas but that isn't what it's about at all. They still have something they could contribute; it might be stirring the Christmas pudding like they've always done or writing a card or putting the star on top of the Christmas tree. Those little things make such a difference for people. Those little touches, it doesn't have to be very much. It's not the fact you've got to get the best present in the world.
“People do worry about Christmas because it's so hyped up; they want to make it through Christmas. My colleagues in SinglePoint are available all over Christmas, day and night. The nurses in SinglePoint can be called out on Christmas Day because of a crisis that's happened at home, and some people do sadly die on Christmas Day or over that short festive period.
“People may worry that they are disturbing SinglePoint over the Christmas period or that they're too busy dealing with other things; but it's always important to call. We'd much rather they rang because it's so much easier to sort things out at a very early stage before that pain, or whatever the symptoms are, escalate.
“As nurses we try to lighten the load and make it more manageable as best we can. People don't want to dwell on their illness every day of the week. They want to try to enjoy as much of a family Christmas as they can, and hopefully, that will give a memory to that patient for however long they have, and also to their family going forward.”
There are many ways for people to Light up a Life this Christmas including dedicating a lantern in memory of a loved one to be displayed in the Hospice garden; or registering to have a real Christmas tree collected for recycling in the Tree-cycle initiative; hosting a fundraising event at work or school; buying Christmas cards and gifts such as the Timeless winter candle from St Helena charity shops; or simply donating to the St Helena Hospice Light up a Life appeal.
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