Diary: Reporting from the front line

A hospice social worker writes…

Monday: The week starts with an 8.30am cancelled appointment so I have time to think about the Children in Need meeting I am attending at a local school later in the day. As happens too often a bereaved child is facing possible exclusion, linked to his angry and unpredictable behaviour at school.

The meeting goes well in that the school shows its tenacity to hold on to this youngster, acknowledging that another loss would be hard for this child to bear. I contribute what I hope are strategies to help the school support a bereaved child. This child may, in time, join the group bereavement programme I co-ordinate, which is for any bereaved child in the local community but now is not the time. Grief does not fit into a prescribed timescale or even a school timetable.

Tuesday: Part of everyday work is supporting bereaved family members and I look forward to seeing the woman coming today. She is approaching the first anniversary of her husband’s early death and speaks with passion and comedy about her loss and how she tries to make sense of it. Listening to people’s stories and having the time to devote to hearing what they have to say is possible in a hospice – in fact, time is what hospices do best, even though that may seem a contradiction to those outside. On the contrary, time is always my enemy and I take pleasure in running down corridors to try to make up time, because hospices also elicit decorous behaviour and I still want to rebel against behaving entirely properly!

Wednesday: Joint meeting to make plans with the guardians of two bereaved children, whose remaining parent died in the hospice. I feel the loss myself, having known this individual since diagnosis a year and a half ago. I too nominated guardians for my children, never expecting they would ever be needed. Hospice life has taught me that children are still orphaned.

Thursday: This morning I had an appointment with a patient who may only live a few months. He is pleased to have got all his affairs in order and recently organised a gathering for his extended family.

Later I speak to a housing organisation about its points systems for re-housing – a family are finding it difficult to continue to use the room where they found a parent dead on the floor. I write to an examinations board to request special consideration for a young person doing A-levels in the aftermath of a family bereavement. It is a frenetic day and I feel on the edge of anger – I know I pick up other people’s anger but I also feel my own. I need a break and everyone probably needs a break from me, but the team I work in is very supportive.

Friday: See a worried little boy with confusions about germs, bugs and catching cancer – two close family members are affected. We draw and make models and work it out together. When he leaves everyone in the hospice we meet admires his creations – and, I suspect, thinks that the social worker has been playing again because she is covered in paint and clay too. It is true. But it is good for him (and me).

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