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Joe Nerssessian, Author at St Christopher's Hospice

Helen Hayes MP opens new St Christopher’s shop

St Christopher’s new shop was officially opened by Helen Hayes MP on Saturday 27 January.

The MP for Dulwich and West Norwood was joined by staff and volunteers from the charity as well as eager shoppers and local councillors as she cut the ribbon on the St Christopher’s store in West Dulwich.

It was a day packed full of shop openings for in Dulwich as we also officially re-opened our refurbished stores on Lordship Lane in the morning.

Mayor Michael Situ and volunteer Carolina cut the ribbon in East Dulwich

The Mayor of Southwark Michael Situ cut the ribbon at the East Dulwich shop. He was joined by an 89-year-old volunteer, Carolina, who has supported St Christopher’s for more than three decades.

The East Dulwich kids’ store, also on Lordship Lane, was officially re-opened by 18-year-old Ben Parish. As a youngster Ben received bereavement support through our child bereavement service, Candle, after his mum and grandad both died.

More than £4000 was spent across the three stores as shoppers flocked in to take advantage of a 25% discount power hour to celebrate the openings.

Helen Hayes cuts the ribbon with staff in West Dulwich

Helen Hayes MP said: I’m really delighted to see the new St Christopher’s shop in West Dulwich, it’s a great addition to the local area providing the opportunity to shop sustainably and to support the hospice which provides vital services for so many families in our local area.”

St Christopher’s Chief Executive, Helen Simmons, and the Deputy Chair of the board, Eleanor Brown, attended all three events. As well as Ms Hayes, local councillors Andy Simmons and Margy Newens were also in attendance at West Dulwich.

Focusing on premium fashion, our newest shop is located at the corner of Croxted Road and Park Hall Road, opposite Tesco Express in West Dulwich.

It’s our 24th shop across South London and swung open its doors for shoppers just before Christmas. It has brought in more than £20,000 in its first eight weeks of trading.

Ben Parish cuts the ribbon in East Dulwich at our kids' store

Each year we need to raise more than £16m to continue providing support and care for those in our communities.

Helen Simmons Chief Executive of St Christopher’s said:  “As a resident of Dulwich, I know how strong the support for St Christopher’s is here and the shop has been so well received by our community in its first few weeks of trading.

“Over the past year we’ve seen strong growth in our shops, and generated more money from them than ever before in 2022/23, which all goes towards our care for those at the end of life, as well as their loved ones.

“Community is so crucial to St Christopher’s and we’re so grateful to everyone who came out and celebrated with us on Saturday.”

Eleanor Brown, Dulwich resident, Chair of the Trading Board and Deputy Chair of the Board of Trustees, said:

We’re delighted to open our latest shop within the thriving and vibrant community of West Dulwich.

“We in Dulwich are ardent supporters of St Christopher’s and there has already been wonderful feedback from residents about the new shop and the goods we have on offer.

“The ability for us to donate so close to home is fantastic and all helps us to raise the vital money for the care St Christopher’s delivers.”

“Every pound spent or item donated means we can continue to support people at the end of life and their loved ones.”

Remembering Dr Colin Murray Parkes OBE

Beloved husband of Patricia, and father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Colin taught us that grief is “the price we pay for love”.

Colin worked closely with our founder Dame Cicely Saunders for many years at St Christopher’s and was dedicated to the understanding and care of bereaved people. He touched countless professional and personal lives.

An expert in grief and bereavement having worked with families after the Aberfan disaster in 1966, he established the first hospice bereavement service at St Christopher’s.

In 1960s Britain, bereaved friends and relatives were expected to hide their grief and carry on with normal life. However, the service was a success, partly because it recognised that dying not only affects someone with a terminal illness but also those close to them.

The service provided contact with loved-ones, and debriefing meetings for staff after each patient’s death, along with basic psychiatry training for nurses.

Bereavement services are now common and St Christopher’s continues the work Colin started by providing both informal and formal bereavement care to more than a thousand people each year.

He was interviewed for our Oral History project, The Voices that Shaped Us, which was exhibited in 2022, and you can listen to an extract of his interview here.

The thoughts of everyone at St Christopher’s are with Colin’s family at this time.

The power of peer support: why Mick returns to the place he thought he would die

When he first came into the hospice as an in-patient, Mick Reed was convinced he wouldn’t be leaving.

But the former sportsman has since learnt that hospices are not just there for people in the last few days of life and is now living independently in his own home in Croydon again.

When he was discharged, Mick was supported by St Christopher’s team of Allied Health Professionals (physios, dieticians, occupational therapists etc) as well as the community nursing team. He quickly regained some of his weight and now can get up and down the stairs again.

“When they advised me to go there, the first thing I thought was that I would never come out,” he says of the moment doctors at Croydon University Hospital referred him to St Christopher’s. “They tried to convince me I was going in for respite, but I thought it was to pass away. But they’ve done such a great job.”

Both Mick’s sister and brother-in-law died at the hospice, but it was only when his cancer stopped responding to treatment that he experienced St Christopher’s care first hand.

“I learned what St Christopher’s is all about and that’s care and attention,” he says. “They don’t leave you alone for five minutes. I had a room on my own and they left the door slightly open and they would not pass without coming in to see that I was ok. They look after you so well and I wouldn’t be like I am now if it wasn’t for those nurses – no way at all.”

Mick is now back home in Croydon

What stands out most for Mick about the care he received was being treated like an individual.

He added: “I wasn’t a patient; I was a person they all got friendly with. They made you feel different and looked after me so well, I can’t fault them in any way. Nothing was too much trouble for anyone.”

Mick certainly needed some building up. His weight had dropped from 11 to just nine stone when he was admitted. Now he’s back up to 10 stone two pounds and takes a regular weekly call from the hospice dietician. A six-week course in the gym with the physio has been another key factor in helping make him strong enough to cope at home.

“That pulled me round. I was very low. I was on the ward when they first took me – I was in a wheelchair –  and did all the minor exercises. I went for six weeks for an hour and loved it. It was the best thing ever. I love training – like for football or boxing and the physio pushed me.”

Despite putting on weight and building up his strength, Mick wasn’t certain he wanted to leave the comfort of the in-patient unit when the doctor told him he was ready to go home.

“I wasn’t sure I was ready. I just didn’t want to leave the safety of the hospice – I felt really safe in there. And I didn’t think I’d feel safe at home. They were right though to send me home and to do things.”

A new mattress and a commode were just two of the practical items the community team installed for Mick to aid his move home. He’s now walking about and climbing the stairs as well as working on restoring his garden to its former glory.

It was Mick’s physio that recommended a further service that’s had a hugely positive outcome on his mental wellbeing – a weekly bereavement group.

“The first time, I got to the doors and someone came up behind me and asked if I was new and offered to take me in. I said I was just going home but they stopped me and took me in.”

Mick at the weekly Bereavement Help Point

“I’m so glad they did,” he adds. It’s given him the space to reflect on the death of his wife of 54 years, Sandy. The couple met at Mick’s sister’s wedding and were inseparable until she died in October 2021.

“The bereavement group is so relaxing and laid back,” says Mick. “It’s really done me the power of good. We’ve all lost someone and it helps so much, even though I didn’t think it would. There’s really no pressure and you don’t have to talk about your bereavement.”

The volunteer-run group is one of a dozen facilitated by St Christopher’s across South East London, taking place in church halls, community centres and other spaces. The one Mick attends takes place right next to the Sydenham Hospice at St Christopher’s Center for Awareness and Response to End of Life.  It’s a real mark of the total turnaround in the way Mick thinks about hospice care that not only would he recommend it to others, but that he returns each week to the place where he thought he was going to die.

“I love to go back and see the people who looked after me. I just got looked after so well,” he says, adding: “If I met anyone who was nervous, I would just say you’ll get looked after so, so well and everyone has got time for you.”

Click here to find out more about St Christopher’s Bereavement Help Points.

Bereavement group helps young widow Jane rebuild her life

September 26 marked the second anniversary of Michael Mogford’s death. For his widow Jane, there was a long period when she really didn’t think she could cope without him, on her own. That is until, somewhat reluctantly, she found the Bereavement Help Point group at St Christopher’s. Now, after a year or so’s weekly get togethers, with a new, tight-knit group of friends, Jane feels strong enough to rebuild her life, has moved away from London and is looking for work.

Nursery worker Jane, 55, and university superintendent Michael, married in 2004, 14 years after meeting for the first time, and lived happily in Crystal Palace for seven years, until he was diagnosed with dementia. Jane then juggled work and caring for Michael at home right up until his death in September 2021 aged 82.

Jane fondly recalls the early days of their relationship. “I think I was probably driven to him by his car, if I’m honest. He used to come and pick me up after work and we’d go down to the coast – Brighton, Eastbourne, or somewhere like that. We’d have a walk on the beach and a meal. It was lovely. He was so funny, he really used to crack me up. 

Jane and Michael

“He was nearly 30 years older than me, but you’d never have known that back then as he was so fit and we used to go walking in Wales and for weekends to Blackpool. He loved Blackpool.”

Two months after Michael died, Jane was struggling to come to terms with her grief and decided to seek help.

“Because I’d had the experience of losing both my parents by the age of 21 and knew how terrible I felt then and how long that feeling had lasted, I thought maybe I should get some help, but I was worried they’d think I was stupid because it had only been a couple of months.”

When Bromley Hub suggested Jane contact St Christopher’s, she dismissed the idea at first, even though Michael had been a volunteer driver for them many years earlier.

“I knew nothing about the hospice. I just thought, why would I go there. I’m not going to die. But I phoned them and of course they didn’t think I was an idiot. Instead, they just showed me love, care and humour.

“The first few times I went to the group, I spent a lot of time in tears. It was just a small group then with everyone in a similar position – they’ve all lost someone and are all on the same wavelength.”

A St Christopher’s Bereavement Help Point

Jane says for any outsider observing them you’d sometimes struggle to know they were a bereavement group. “We don’t tend to look ill, upset or worried and sometimes people just want to talk about the football or even just sit and listen. But it has been amazing and really changed my life. Recently I’ve been helping some of the newcomers settle in too. Like a true south Londoner, I tell them, ‘this c*#p does get better!’”

Moving to the Isle of Wight (another place she and Michael used to enjoy visiting) this month means Jane won’t be able to attend the Thursday morning sessions anymore. She says though that she definitely won’t be severing ties with the group that now boasts around 20 regulars, about half and half, men and women, with a good mix of ages too.

“There’s a core group of us that have become very close, and we’ve been on trips together to Greenwich and Battersea Power Station. In fact, a posse is threatening to come and visit me here on the island.”

The volunteers running the bereavement group have also told Jane that she is welcome to drop in any time she is back in London.

“It’s so different to anything else I have ever experienced in my life and the volunteers are amazing. I want Michael back, especially now I’m living here as it’s perfect for him. But, this group of all different personalities has been the best possible therapy for me and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone.”

A number of Bereavement Help Points take place each week across South London, including at St Christopher’s CARE every Thursday morning. Click here to see the full timetable.

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