As I pen these words, I am filled with joy and gratitude. I stand in awe of the incredible journey Tōtara Hospice has been on – 40 years of unwavering dedication to caring for people with terminal illnesses in our community. It is a journey that has touched countless lives, including mine, and I am honoured to share my story with you.
My remarkable journey sadly began with a personal tragedy. In the late 70s my dear 39-year-old brother-in-law battled a devastating brain tumour.
At that time, hospice care did not exist, even his GP struggled to provide adequate care. Witnessing his pain and the anguish it brought to our entire family left me feeling helpless and heartbroken, even as a trained nurse I witnessed the devastating impact, and I saw then the need for hospice care.
In the early 80’s driven by the vow to do more for others facing similar situations, fate led me to the doorstep of South Auckland Hospice, now known as Tōtara Hospice. I saw an ad in the local paper asking for volunteers to support providing hospice services - I was in!
Training was given on how to be a volunteer, at that stage, there was no building, so I visited people's homes. I would receive a telephone call and off I would go out to all our local suburbs in my car, and I would sit with a patient to support them and their family.
Even though I trained as a nurse, there was always something different and new at every visit. It was a continual steep learning curve. But I knew there was no other services for these patients. It was such a commitment. But also, camaraderie with the founders and other volunteers that we were doing this together.
I will always remember Rose; I would drive out to provide her support. Rose loved everything adorned with roses, and we would sit together sipping tea from her beautiful red rose bone china cups.
Her husband was so lovely, but he had the weight of the world on him as he cared for the love of his life knowing he was going to be facing his life without her. For Rose, she wanted her husband to be supported and be able to die knowing he was going to be okay, maybe not straight away but he would be.
As her condition deteriorated, she became bedridden, and as Rose and I sat together, the simple act of reminiscing about her life brought her immense joy. However, just as important was that sometimes her husband was able to go out while I was there, knowing Rose was okay, to have a bit of time for himself, like a game of golf with friends.
The comfort that would bring her was so rewarding. It meant the world to Rose, and it was an honour for me to be there for her.
Now in our 40th year, Tōtara Hospice care still mostly takes place in the comfort of patients' homes. The Hospice Care Team goes the extra mile - literally - to provide support and care. They are on the road, visiting patients and their families day in and day out, ensuring no one is alone on their journey.
When my husband, Robert, was diagnosed with a terminal illness 13 years ago, I clearly remember one night when his breathing was very laboured, and I was really worried. I didn’t want to burden my family, so I phoned the team at Tōtara Hospice.
I needed someone with a nurse's view, and they were so helpful – I never thought I would need them. You think you are going to do this yourself, but they were just the most amazing support.
Over the years, there were sceptics who saw us as well-intentioned do-gooders. But it was the everyday people, like you, in the community that truly understood the urgency of our mission.
Like you, I really believe in the importance of hospice care, so in 1994 as well as my volunteering I became a Trustee on the Board. Back then recruiting to the Board was exceptionally hard as money was so short – there literally was no guaranteed money. I didn’t worry about patient care; I knew they were getting the best care. The worry about money was never-ending – how could we keep funding care? It’s still a worry to this day!
It fills me with immense pride to witness how Tōtara Hospice has grown over the past four decades. Because of supporters like you, it is now an organisation at the forefront of specialist palliative care delivery supporting countless patients and families.
It has been a privilege and humbling experience to be a volunteer for Tōtara Hospice it makes you count your blessings.
Your donation today will help keep the Hospice Care team on the road. To make a donation visit www.hospice.co.nz/donate