Anna Chaplaincy 'brings me such personal satisfaction'
Updated: Apr 29
Despite the disturbing news of the high death toll among residents in care homes as a result of coronavirus, here's some heartening news of the support Anna Chaplaincy brings to those in residential care.
Anna Chaplain in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, Eileen Simmons, writes to say:
'It is exactly two years since I first started as a volunteer at my local care home. I am missing my visits so much, as currently the home is closed to all visitors. All I am able to do is email and take round cards for the staff along with biscuits and chocolates. The work I do brings me such personal satisfaction and is, I believe, the most effective work of Christian outreach in our local community I have ever done.'
Eileen is keeping a record of her previous visits to a dementia care home and in this, the latest in series of excerpts she is sharing with us, she reflects on the end of life:
ANNA CHAPLAINCY: My one-to-one interactions in a local care home with individual residents, most of whom have advanced dementia.
My last logged visit was on 10 March and sadly two of my residents had died during the previous week. The theme of this article is end-of-life care.
During that visit I learned that Percy had died, which made me very sad. The manager of the care home assured me that he died very peacefully with all his family around him. He was 97, and every week we spoke about him not waiting for conscription in World War II and how he loved his job servicing Lancaster Bombers. He was always wanting to tell me this story once I had triggered the memory. There is a TV programme called Repair Shop and immediately after Percy’s death there was a story of a man who took in his grandfather’s Lancaster Bombers pilot’s hat for restoration. The pilot had died, but the hat was a family treasure. I like to imagine that maybe Percy had serviced that pilot’s Lancaster Bomber.
The purpose of my visits is to interact with the residents but inevitably, from time to time conversation takes place with spouses, sons, daughters or friends of residents. I was shopping in Leigh Broadway very early in January, when I met Gudrun, David’s widow. David was a resident in the home who had died last autumn. Gudrun was just so pleased to see me and we had a beautiful conversation. She is such a warm person and we always chatted when she was visiting David. I probably talked more to her than to David. She often said that she felt guilty that she was no longer able to care for him at home. She said she could not lift him when he fell over. I always reassured her that she had taken the right decision as she was still giving him warm, loving care by visiting regularly. One day when I arrived David had fallen and staff were providing appropriate care. Gudrun was holding his hand and talking to him.
We talked for a long time in the street holding hands, while she praised the home, telling me of the amazing end-of-life care he had been given by the night staff. It seemed that she could not stop the tributes coming. Basically, she said his death was so peaceful and beautiful with her and their children with him. She asked how different residents and staff were and asked me to pass on messages and thanks, which I did. Death and widowhood are inevitably life changing and difficult, but a 'good death' certainly helps.
One of the staff once said to me that she cared for the residents as she would care for her own parents. My observations are confirmation of the high degree of skill and sensitivity both needed and given daily. I do interact with staff and ensure feedback is given to them and the manager. Everyone needs encouragement and positive feedback as appropriate.
I first became aware and involved when my college friend was diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2012. We had met in 1957 and stayed good friends until her death in January of this year. I became a Dementia Friend and joined the Alzheimers Society, but it wasn’t until May 2018 that I volunteered at my care home. These last two years there have been so rewarding.
My friend also had a 'good death'. Her sons and husband kept in close contact with me and our friendships grew stronger in the time before her death. 'Thank you for your prayers and for being Mum’s life long friend and part of our family.'
Her funeral was just beautiful. They lived next door to their parish church, which was full to overflowing. A minister, who was a friend of the family, led the service and everything was so personal. A Christian funeral is the ultimate blessing.
In conversation last night with my friend, her husband, we said how wonderful it was that her death and funeral happened in January rather than in these troubled times. Her family are so pleased that I am an Anna Chaplain.