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What Linda Gives to Hospice Care – and What Hospice Care Gives Back

When Linda Coffey was just 12 years old, her Dad had his first heart attack. Within six months, he’d had another. He survived, but – as doctors made clear – he wouldn’t survive another one.

Today, Linda is Director of Care at ellenor, with seven years at ellenor – and almost two and a half decades working with patients across Dartford, Gravesham, and Swanley – she understands the unique needs and challenges of the palliative space.

Linda oversees all the clinical services the hospice provides – both from its Gravesend-based inpatient ward, and from the homes of its patients throughout the community. These services range from nursing and medical care to wellbeing – which, in itself, comprises physiotherapy, counselling, family support, spiritual support, and more.

Since around 90% of ellenor’s ‘holistic’ care is in the community, Linda also oversees the hospice’s relationships with local GPs, as well as the area’s hospital and community nursing providers.

That, in brief, is what Linda does. So why does she do it?

“I came into nursing,” Linda says, “to make a difference. I chose to work in the community because I didn’t want to lose contact with patients – to end up in a management role without that day-to-day interaction. 

“You really get to know the patients at ellenor, and their families. What we give to patients when they come here – and we’re very fortunate to be able to do this – is time. Given a diagnosis, they need that time to get their head around things.”

With that time comes a lot of opportunities to talk – and to listen. To broach those difficult conversations around death and dying, and help ensure a patient’s wishes are not only  communicated clearly to their families, but actioned too.

“Some patients are very well prepared for these talks,” Linda explains, “while some are so far from being able to have these conversations that you have to tread very gently. Everybody’s different; everybody handles bad news differently. You can’t read from a script – you have to think on your feet. But because we have the time, we can do that: listen, hear, and respond in the right way.”

Being able to talk openly about typically taboo topics like death and dying is an invaluable skill. And, for Linda, it’s one that she finds expression for not only in the professional domain – but in the personal one, too.

In February last year, Linda’s beloved Dad – while clearing the snow in the back garden, in sub-zero temperatures, aged 79 – passed away suddenly.

“That was him all over,” Linda smiles, thinking of her Dad’s strength and forthrightness. “He was amazing, yet I’d always lived with the knowledge that he might not be here at any moment. It was a shock when he died. But – I think because of what I see here at the hospice – I’ve always had this openness with my Dad. We didn’t have any secrets.”

Linda’s guidance cultivates a safe and supportive atmosphere: for patients, families, and staff. And, in the wake of her Dad’s death, it was this same environment that helped her through the loss.

“It didn’t make it any easier on me, or my daughter – she was close to my Dad, and it was her first great loss – but it did mean that when I returned to work, it was the best possible place I could be. I got the support I needed because I was around people who weren’t frightened to talk to me about it; to ask how I was feeling. If I was having a wobble, it was okay – I didn’t try to hide it, because I knew the people around me were used to it.

“There’s something special about where I work.”

While Linda didn’t access any of ellenor’s services to help process her Dad’s death,

Her daughter Beth did. She had music therapy – a way of enabling people to express feelings of grief and loss in a non-verbal way through melodies and instruments.

“It really helped her, and she talks about it a lot more now. It gave her strategies for using music as a way for her to communicate not just with me, but with her friends and teachers, too. It’s also given her a way of remembering my Dad; we talk about him, and the music he liked.

“She went through a phase where she didn’t want to show me she was upset – because she didn’t want to make me upset. Music therapy enabled us to have that conversation.”

Just as working in a hospice environment helped Linda process her Dad’s death, the relationship was two-way. Because the loss of her Dad also helped her gain a new appreciation for (and perspective of) her role – and a fresh way of empathising with patients and families.

“There’s a danger, when you work in our field for a long period of time, that you get so used to doing what you do – so used to the news you give to people – that you forget it’s the first time the family are hearing it; the first time they’re experiencing that feeling. To go through it myself almost ‘refreshed’ it for me – that approach you need to take, giving people time and to listen.”

So, Linda’s advice? Have those difficult conversations. Plan ahead, ensure your family know what your wishes are – and leave nothing to chance or misinterpretation.

“Now, death is certainly something I talk to my husband – and even my daughter – about on a regular basis. She speaks openly with her Nana about it, too, and I love it that they’re able to have that kind of conversation.

“Working at ellenor has changed my outlook on life. I don’t wait around to do things now. If I want to do something, I just do it. When you’re spending every day dealing with other people’s mortality, you think about your own.

“So don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today!”