Appeal for support in saving hospice future

Christine Townson
Christine Townson
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Grief specialists at a Lancashire hospice say it would be a “disaster” if it closed.

Christine Townson and Helen O’Neil work as bereavement service coordinators at underthreat St John’s Hospice in Lancaster, which supports families from Garstang up to Cumbria.

The hospice is facing a £500,000 funding blackhole.

Helen, 49, said: “It would be a disaster for the community. I don’t know how people would cope if this place wasn’t here. It would leave a massive void.”

Christine, 61, added: “Knowing we are here, that we do care, and that we will help is almost enough for people but if, we weren’t here, there would be a lot more people needing help.”

Backed by an army of 17 volunteers, they manage the service day-to-day and split the role from Monday to Thursday.

And the support they give is seen as crucial to the running of the bereavement side, particularly given the geographical area the charity covers.

Helen, from Preston, explained: “We manage the service but we couldn’t do it without the team of volunteers which we currently have.

“We couldn’t survive without them.

“They come from all walks of life but we give them a very robust training. There’s very little bereavement support in this area.

“If people are bereaved they go to their doctor and that’s about it.”

Christine, who lives in Lancaster, continued: “We support a big area - our footprint is from Garstang right up to Cumbria - and if we can help people we will.”

The specialists take great satisfaction, priding themselves on the long-term care they offer those suffering the heartache of losing someone close.

Monthly get-togethers for the recently bereaved, where stories and memories are shared over coffee and home-made cakes, are well-attended - even though many grieving families, said Helen, find it difficult to visit the hospice again.

“Others are content to just have a quiet walk around the gardens.

“When someone is at the end of their life, there’s an awful lot of activity and caring for the person who’s dying, “ Helen said.

“When that person dies, you have a big emotional void in your life and that’s where we come in. People are often very grateful for just a phone call. Sometimes people don’t want to upset their families.

“We will often get a call from a daughter saying: I can’t talk to my mum because she will be upset’, so coming here is really helpful for them.

“It’s a place for them to be themselves.

“We also get a lot of people asking: It’s been six months, is it still normal to feel like this?’. People grieve in their own way. You don’t get over grief, you learn to adapt.

“There’s something really satisfying in seeing people change from the first day they are so devastated and gradually seeing them coping.

“We are walking alongside them as they tell their story.”

Christine added: “It’s an enormous privilege that we can work alongside these people. It’s humbling that complete strangers come to speak to us.”