The hospice was founded in 1985 – but there aren’t many people who’ve worked there for its close to four decades of existence.
Well… there is one person.
That’s ellenor’s chaplain, Lesley Gould. A Reader at St Mary’s Church in Gravesend, Lesley was born a Catholic. Early in life, however, she briefly drifted from her faith. Before rediscovering it, after walking past the local church and hearing singing from within.
“I thought, ‘I want some of that; that companionship, that spiritual growth.’”
Soon, she was training to be a Pastoral Assistant – and loving it. But there was one aspect of her training, in particular, that resonated.
“I’d always loved the bereavement side of the training,” explains Lesley. “I really connected with it – supporting a dying person, and their bereaved family members.
“I knew I had to take that path.”
When ellenor opened its doors for the first time, in 1985, Lesley was there. Ready to do what she loved – and still loves – most. Providing spiritual care to people approaching the end of their lives, and their loved ones.
Many patients approach Lesley directly. Sometimes, it’s to plan a wedding – other times, a funeral.
These discussions can take place at ellenor’s Coldharbour Road-based hospice in Northfleet, or from within the patient’s home. There, Lesley explains, it’s the patient who leads the conversation.
“We talk about what the patient wants to talk about. Their funeral, the prayers they want read there. The family is involved, too.”
That family involvement is, of course, important. Before – and even many months after – a patient has died, Lesley stays in touch with their loved ones to support them.
“I’ll ring the family of the patient a night before the funeral, and six weeks after. When a year has passed, I’ll send a card. To say ‘I’m still here, I’m still thinking about you – you’re not on your own’. It’s important that people know you are still there – that you haven’t simply done the funeral, then walked away and left them.”
The spiritual care Lesley provides is one arm of ellenor’s ‘holistic’ approach to care. One that aims not to treat the illness alone, but the person. Through this lens, the care ellenor provides isn’t only clinical. But psychological, social, emotional – and spiritual – too.
It’s something that, according to Lesley, is vital.
“I think there’s a deepening need for spiritual care,” she explains. “It’s not just for the dying, but for the living. It’s for the patients’ relatives, too – who are always very glad that a chaplain has been present at the funeral of, and said prayers for, their loved one.