Emil volunteers for Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice’s Support at Home team in which he visits patients and carers in their own homes to offer practical, emotional and social support, as well as a listening ear. Emil is currently supporting Irene and so once a week he visits her home to have a catch up, listen to any concerns she might have and most importantly, have a good laugh. Read his story here… 

Being a volunteer for the Birmingham St Mary’s Support at Home team has been a grounding and motivational experience. In remembrance of my mum, who received support from the Hospice at Home team and spent her final day on the Inpatient Unit, I promised myself I’d give back to them to show my gratitude. The support that she received from their team was unquestionably the best care I’ve seen in the five years I spent caring for her. No words can describe how much their unwavering help meant to me during that time and I feel very lucky to be part of an organisation so vital to the community.

Once I was ready to come back to the Hospice, I attended a volunteer recruitment open day to chat to staff and find a role that was perfect for me. Upon reviewing the options, it became clear that the role of a Support at Home volunteer would suit my personality, experience, and skills very well.

In my role, I offer a listening ear and a helping hand to patients, their loved ones and carers in their own home. A part of me was worried that being surrounded by poorly individuals would bring down my overall mood but the reality has been the exact opposite. I spend around one hour a week visiting Irene, a patient who has dementia and MS, and she’s absolutely filled with joy. Her smiles and laughter are infectious, and I carry that attitude with me throughout the rest of my day.

Irene’s family is very much present in her daily life, so together we’ve decided that my role is to encourage Irene to talk about her life, her memories, and anything else that pops into her mind. I often use the pictures that are dotted around her house and the events I’ve heard from her family as prompts to get us talking about her joyful life – I really want to do everything I can to support her in retaining those memories for as long as possible. I love seeing the way Irene’s face lights up when she talks about the girly holidays she went on during her younger years. She likes to impersonate each character when she tells her stories which makes us both crack up.

Whilst the main purpose of my role is to be a listening ear, I also make sure she is comfortable with the room temperature and her seating position. I’ve been working on encouraging her to use her phone to open the communal doors in the retirement village where she lives, since it’s important to promote independence wherever we can.

In the evenings her carers arrive to help her get into bed which can be a tricky process as she is very proud and does not like admitting that she needs help. In order to make this routine a bit smoother, I try to make everyone laugh or at least elevate the mood before I leave, and the carers have let me know that this really does make a difference.

The entire focus of this role is to offer emotional support to Irene and her family which is surprisingly easy since everyone is very friendly and warm. Irene enjoys the opportunity to talk as much as she wants, about anything she wants. She likes the fact that I’m her younger ‘mate’ (we have a 50-year age gap!) and that we can gossip about the family who she sees all the time. For the family, I think it’s nice to have an evening off. They all do such a good job supporting Irene every single day despite their other commitments and busy work schedules. Irene’s also let me know that it’s nice to have someone who isn’t part of the family or a medical professional come and spend time with her – she describes it as a breath of fresh air. 

The Hospice is certainly one of the most rewarding places to volunteer your time and energy. I believe that we should have control and dignity at the end of our lives and without places like the Hospice, this wouldn’t be accessible for some. It feels amazing to know that I am having a positive impact on this organisation, not to mention all the personal benefits I’ve gained from volunteering. There are times at work where I’m really stressed out and running around like a headless chicken but as soon as I enter Irene’s home at 6pm, both she and her family make me realise how precious time is.

Thank you, Emil, for sharing your story with us. If you would like to find out more about Support at Home, please take a look here. Or, if like Emil, you would like to volunteer your time, please check out our current opportunities or email [email protected] for more information.