'Covid has highlighted a greater need for spiritual care and remembrance'

First published on: 17th March 2021

Ruth Pryce, Chaplain at Liverpool Marie Curie Hospice shares her experience of the last year during the pandemic.

This last year at the Hospice has been both challenging and a huge privilege.

Before the first lockdown last March I was involved in the community supporting a young lady. We spent a lot of time together talking about her advanced care planning and her end of life wishes. She had thought a lot about this and had planned special days out with friends and family to help them make memories of time with her. Her funeral was to be a celebration of her life with different friends taking part.

She deteriorated quickly and came into the Hospice just after the first lockdown began, it soon became apparent that she would be unable to fulfill any of her wishes due to the strict Covid restrictions. This was exceedingly difficult for her family and friends especially as visiting rules were very restricted at that time.

Just before she died, she said to me “I feel as if my death will be insignificant, I will just be another number read out daily”

This conversation had a huge impact on me, it made me think that behind every number there is a person with family and friends, a person with their own life story. It also made me think that people are not just dying of Covid but many other diseases and illnesses and all should be remembered.

As a direct result of this conversation, I organised a photo collage in the Hospice reception, relatives and friends were invited to send in photos of their loved ones to be displayed.

This was a positive experience for many people, one lady said, “If it hadn’t been for Covid I would never have had the opportunity to display my Mum’s photo in the Hospice”.

Another family that made an impact on me was a family with four daughters. Their mum had come into the Hospice during lockdown to die. The visiting restriction at that time was two family members only at the end of life. The family had to decide which daughter would be able to come in with their dad. A hard decision for any family to make.

Members of our local community had knitted small red hearts for us to use at the Hospice. I was able to give each daughter a red heart along with one for their mum.

I spoke to one daughter after their mum died and she told me that her mum never let go of her heart and they buried her with it, she told me the red hearts had made each of them feel connected to their mum even though they could not physically be there, and that nearly a year later each daughter still has their heart beside their bed.

Covid has highlighted a greater need for spiritual care and remembrance, at a time when the usual comforts associated with end-of-life care have been stripped away.

Covid has made me think “outside the box”, discovering new ways of helping patients feel connected with their family and friends.

I have had to become more fluent in technology, assisting patients to keep in touch using an iPad. This has also been taken up by our day care services, providing virtual support to patients, relaxation classes, yoga, quizzes, and craft sessions.

I have rearranged the hospice chapel into “an escape” room. Providing a safe place for staff and patients to use when they need time out.

Staff wellbeing has been highlighted this last year, recognising the impact Covid along with the restrictions in the Hospice has had on all our staff, many of whom have worked throughout the pandemic. Some of my colleagues have dedicated their time to focus on this and have provided opportunities for staff to express how they are feeling, meditation sessions and leaving little treats on our desks or on the wards.

Although there have been many challenges this last year, there have also been many opportunities. As many patients have not had visitors, they have been even keener to talk to me and these conversations have led to us having in-depth discussions about their own faith and beliefs, on a couple of occasions this has resulted in the patient asking me to baptise them before they died.

One gentleman asked for Holy Communion before he died. He wanted this to be a shared experience with his wife, but sadly she could not be with him. I video called his wife and she took part in the service over the phone with us. When I did meet her when her husband was dying, she was so grateful for the experience I had given, and she said it would remain a constant comfort to her after his death.

Sadly, Covid won't end when restrictions are lifted, there is no doubt that many of the restrictions that have been in place at end-of-life care, are going to affect how people grieve. At the Hospice we offer bereavement support for children and adults who have been connected to Marie Curie.

Bereavement support has continued throughout the pandemic. The usual way of face-to-face support had to be put on hold due to restrictions, but recognising the need especially during these unprecedented times, support has continued via telephone or online.

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