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Hospice Chaplain Celebrates Family And Friendship At Christmas

Volunteer chaplain Sharon Kennedy is always heartened to see hospice patients and their families celebrate life and enjoy precious time together over the Christmas period.

She said: “The patients are really quite amazing. The courage and determination they show is remarkable -- their capacity for joy and laughter and having fun despite what they are facing.

“I find it quite humbling and it’s a privilege for me to spend time with the patients and their families, be a part of their lives and walk with them on their journey. They are quite inspiring to be around, especially at this time of year.”

ellenor has its own chaplain, Ben Cooper, and he is supported in the role by Sharon and another volunteer, Lesley Gould.

“The work of ellenor and its chaplains doesn’t stop at Christmas,” said Sharon. “One of us will be on site throughout and we will also be visiting people at home – and we are always at the end of a telephone.”

Like everyone at the hospice Sharon is looking forward to the annual Lights of Love service, which will be held virtually on Saturday December 18 at 6pm around the large Christmas tree outside the hospice in Northfleet. Following readings and carols the tree lights will be lit – each one in memory of a loved one.

Sharon said: “Anyone can come into the hospice over the Christmas period, spend some time in the chapel and light a candle, generally with a chaplain. It’s particularly important we are here for people at this time of year.

“It is usually a time for being with loved ones – a time that is precious to ellenor families. Even though many patients are facing the end of their lives, we can still make Christmas a celebration.

“We know it can be a difficult time and it’s important people have someone they can really open up to about how they feel. It’s important for patients and their families to share their thoughts, their worries and their fears.

“Often people want to talk to us about things they don’t want to share with their family, and we treat everything confidentially. If they can let out emotions and feelings that are bottled up, it releases some of the power these thoughts have over them.”

Every week the chaplains hold a short service in ellenor’s small chapel, where they invite patients and visitors to light candles of hope or in remembrance and share a quiet and peaceful time together. They also take holy communion to inpatients on the ward and visit patients in their own homes.

Sharon said: “Some people feel happier being in their own environment, but they still want our support. Some people have faith, and some don’t. I’m a Christian and so are the other ellenor chaplains, but we embrace people of all faiths and religions, or with no faith. We treat everyone the same – we offer spiritual support to anyone who needs us. If they need to talk, we will listen.”

Sharon, who has been volunteering at ellenor for three years, comes into the hospice from her home in Swanley for one day each week.

She said: “We each stick to our set days so we can get to know out-patients who come in on those days. We also provide support to patients’ families and to the staff here at ellenor. Sometimes all people need is a friendly face – just a smile can make such a difference. They need someone to off-load to.”

Sharon admits she was apprehensive the first time she visited the ellenor hospice.

She said: “I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect but when I walked in, I was quite taken aback at how positive it is and how the atmosphere there is so filled with love. It’s an amazing place. I feel quite passionately about it.

“For me it’s all about love and it’s taking the time to sit and talk to patients away from the busyness of the world. We listen to them, show them love, support and understanding.

“I get as much out of it as the people who talk to me. It’s so worthwhile. Although the patients have a limited amount of time, for them to share some of that with me – that’s why I’m privileged and blessed. I often ask myself if I was facing what some of them are going through, could I be as brave as they are?”

Mother-of-two Sharon is looking forward to her own family Christmas. Hopefully this year they will be able to spend time with her mother, Mollie, who lives round the corner and had to shield last year due to Covid restrictions.

Sharon said: “Because of my belief and my faith, Christmas is a very special time, a time of celebration. It’s also just lovely to be with my children and my family and appreciate all that we have. It’s a time for counting our blessings. I’m very fortunate to have family, lovely friends, and really special people in my life. The odd present is nice but it’s more about who is in my life. That’s way more important.”

Sharon has always believed in a god “of some sort” and in 2013 a friend invited her to go to a Christian festival.

“While I was there, I really felt for the first time a strong feeling that God is real,” she said. “I joined a local church, but then I did stop going for a while. Then in 2017 I felt strongly that I wanted to be baptised and to find out more about God. It was really after that my faith grew stronger and stronger.”

Two years ago, Sharon joined Elim Church in Swanley, where ellenor’s chaplain Ben is the Senior Reverend.

She said: “I felt a calling in my heart to chaplaincy, particularly palliative care. It felt so strong and clear to me. I had an overwhelming feeling that I wanted to work with patients at the end of their life. When I first came to visit ellenor with Ben, I loved it. I quickly knew that’s where I was meant to be. I still feel as strongly about it now. It is a place filled with positivity and peace.”

To find out more about the Lights of Love service click here.

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Lights of Love 2021