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Address given at the Barts Health NHS Trust Service of Remembrance (16 November 2014), by Heather Richardson, Chief Executive, St Christopher's Hospice
Heather Richardson speaks at the Barts Service of Remembrance.
May my words and thoughts be acceptable to all present here tonight
This event has become an increasingly regular addition to my diary in recent years
- It goes without saying that the venue is magnificent
- as is the chance to sit quietly under the dome for period of contemplation.
But most important for the time that it offers me, as a nurse, to remember people that I have cared for who have died
- some I recall by name. Individuals for whom I felt great affection and who have enriched my life through friendship
- some are memorable for me because of some extraordinary quality – a great sense of humour, bravery, stoicism, generosity of spirit
- some are remembered by me in appreciation – through caring for them I learnt new skills, had new insights. I learnt new and better ways to be a nurse.
- Some, sadly, I remember because I feel I failed them in some way; an important, but deeply uncomfortable thing to acknowledge. It is something for which I feel truly sorry.
- It is important for individuals and families who mourn the loss of someone with huge personal significance. It is the chance to acknowledge that person’s importance and the gap that they leave. This is of course the real reason for the service tonight.
- It is also important for professionals whose practice and approach to care will be shaped by those they have cared for in the past
- It is important for society, whose values increasingly fail to embrace longevity, bravery, struggle, loyalty, relational intimacy - so many of the issues that exist in the processes of dying and loss.
In an act of remembrance we remind ourselves and the rest of the world of
- the link between life and death
- being alive whilst mourning those that have died,
- acknowledging a new gap in an important relationship whilst simultaneously and somewhat paradoxically remaining connected
When I look back on my career my high points have been those moments when I have felt connected with individuals – patients, families, friends and colleagues.
- Moments of laughter and shared amusement
- Moments when we have jointly and simultaneously realized the enormity of the events ahead for all involved
- Moment of triumph when a much wanted goal is achieved
- Moments of shared sadness when dreams and wishes are clearly not going to be realised.
And that connection is one of the best characteristics of what happens in the service tonight. It is the chance for individuals or families who are bereaved sit alongside and remember with professionals and others people lost to them through death.
Whilst in no way do I suggest that we as professionals share anything like the real pain or distress you experience, we do stand alongside you, and just as we gain strength and inspiration from you, so I hope, you get something back our presence as well.
Together, we effectively become a community.
My own belief is that it is that move from being individuals alone with loss or grief to one where we are in communion with others that best helps us all live with grief.
- That community can be a personal one comprising family, friends and neighbours:
- it may be one that is established with other individuals or families in a similar situation;
- it can be one that is even broader such as that being created this evening.
And I will go further to suggest that such a community could not only help individuals but also whole systems such as health care.
In reflecting on some of the recent tragedies in health care - the demise of the Liverpool Care Pathway, the Mid Staffordshire Hospital Scandal and the sad stories of abuse in some care homes.
I cant help but think that these would not have happened if professionals and those that they were caring for were better connected, in communion, as we are tonight.
There is real evidence, in looking back on all of those tragedies, of
The failure of some staff
- to see people as individuals,
- to have important conversations about the progress of people’s illness and changing plans for care,
There was often a breakdown in communication between everyone involved
- a failure to find time and words, where all involved came together to discuss possible ways forward and to identify a plan which everyone could sign up to
There was an increasing space between "them” and "us”
- in identifying a problem,
- in finding an acceptable solution
- and saying sorry when things had gone wrong
This, as many of you will know, made for irreparable damage and much pain on the part of families as the stories of poor care became ever more evident.
Instead, I wonder, could there have been a different outcome if professionals, patients and families had found a space together to share in the human experience of loss – acknowledging that despite very best efforts on the part of all involved, some illnesses do end in death
We are here tonight, brought together by a shared desire to remember people who have died.
Whilst undoubtedly a privilege for many of us, it can also be hard and feel very sad for those struggling to cope with the gap they leave and in finishing this is my message for you.
My wish for you is that you will be comforted in the connection you have with everyone here this evening. Importantly I hope you will know that you are not alone. The person sitting next to you, infront and behind of you is here because they want to be part of a community that (including you) acknowledges the realities of death and loss, as part of the experience of being alive.
Our diversity of experience, backgrounds, and reasons for being here adds to the richness of that community. I hope personally that this community continues to meet over many years, growing over time. I for one will want to be part of it and I hope you will too.