LGBTQ+ History Month

“The further we develop, the more we see the people we’re not recognising”

Nearly twenty years after becoming St Christopher’s Chaplain, Rev Dr Andrew Goodhead, takes the opportunity this LGBTQ+ History Month, to reflect on his own journey and the progress the hospice has made in addressing inequalities.

Hear from Andrew by watching the video or read our interview with him below.

It took St Christopher’s chaplain, Rev Dr Andrew Goodhead, fully 20 minutes to realise that he was being offered the role of Chaplain and Spiritual Care Lead when he was called back the day after his interview back in 2004. Almost two decades on, Andrew says he’s delighted he did eventually twig and didn’t miss the chance to take up the role.

“I think the fact I’ve been here at St Christopher’s for nearly 20 years, tells you what I think of the role and the place. It’s been very interesting and challenging and my colleagues have been amazing.”

When Andrew, who is gay, reflects on his own achievements in the job, and the progress of St Christopher’s and the wider hospice movement in tackling issues of equity and equality, he’s overwhelmingly positive, but stops well short of complacency.

Spiritual care Andrew Goodhead

He adds: “The role and the organisation have changed just as society has. But we always need to keep changing and to change more.

“There are undoubtedly inequalities that still need addressing, whether they are around cultural or religious beliefs. And when it comes to gender diversity, there are people who find it difficult to access healthcare and who are therefore not receiving the end of life care they could be because they’re worried about how they will experience it and be treated.”

It’s in the words Andrew uses to describe what being chaplain means, that he truly encapsulates his approach to inclusivity and extending access to end of life to all.

“It’s about meeting people where they are and for who they are. And while we absolutely should recognise difference, we don’t want to be talking about supporting difference as a badge of honour.”

It’s that focus on being with people that drew Andrew to St Christopher’s in the first place, after more than a decade working as a Methodist Minister in a number of locations across England. He recalls feeling bogged down in relentless admin, rather than providing the spiritual and pastoral support that had motivated him to join the ministry in 1987 after a period as Legal Executive in his home city of Plymouth.

“I wanted to leave behind the aspects of being a Methodist Minister which were not fulfilling  and come to a place where I knew I could work with people pastorally.

“It’s such a varied job with a massive number of functions. As well as supporting patients and their families there’s a staff support role too.”

Providing training for colleagues around trans diversity is one example of how the hospice is changing and moving forwards, Andrew adds.

Among many high points since joining St Christopher’s in 2005, Andrew picks out a single event and a recurring one.

“Soon after the Same Sex Marriage Act came in in 2013, there was a man in the in-patient unit with his partner and they were talking about having a civil partnership. I suggested they get married. They were surprised they could, but we got the registrar in and made a real event of it. They were so pleased and then when he died, I took the funeral and I was able to talk freely and openly about him.

“Then, I also love the thanksgiving memorial services we do because in a society that says, ‘we don’t want you to grieve’, we bring people together every year and they can come and be sad together. The grief is theirs but they’re not alone. It gives people permission in a gentle way to engage in grief and to step back.”

Any resting on self-satisfied laurels is certainly not something you’ll find Andrew doing. He’s always looking for more ways for the hospice to be more accessible and equitable.

“The further we develop, the more we see the people we’re not recognising or reaching. An example of this would be around hospices’ initial approach to HIV and AIDS. We could have responded more proactively and thoughtfully. I think today we’re probably better on these issues, but we mustn’t give ourselves a pat on the back  for caring for someone who is trans or gender diverse. We should be treating them as a patient like everyone else, recognising the need to be more sensitive about pronouns and family relationships.

Andrew Goodhead

“Generally, things are moving forward as society becomes more tolerant and I would love to see a time when LGBTQ+ people are not seen as a minority but as part of the whole.”

While he remains fully committed to supporting everyone at the end of life and doing everything he can to make the experience a good one, there is an important skill Andrew has learned – to compartmentalise his work so that when he walks out of the hospice at the end of day he leaves his work behind.

“It’s about meeting people where they are and for who they are. And while we absolutely should recognise difference, we don’t want to be talking about supporting difference as a badge of honour.”

Cyril and Janet’s story

‘I’ll never forget her smile’

From the very first day he spotted Janet out of his basement window, to the day she died, Cyril Titus says he was always struck by her ubiquitous smile.

They were living separate lives as neighbours in Clapham in the mid-70s. After a while, then art student Cyril, plucked up the courage to write a letter addressed to the ‘woman in number 45’.

Cyril, who became a bookbinder at the British Library, and teacher Janet married in 1985 and, when they discovered they couldn’t have children, adopted two children, John and Cherelle.

“She was just a really nice person. You just had to hear all the eulogies at the funeral and what people had to say about her. The first time I realised what a special person she was when I went to see her at the school she taught at, and I saw all the parents coming up to her and thanking her and seeing their joy in meeting her. You could see how they couldn’t wait to thank her. She gave a lot and never had a bad word to say about anyone.”

The couple shared a love of travelling, visiting numerous countries during their 37-year marriage. For Cyril, one trip in particular stands out. Soon after they’d adopted John and Cherelle, he was invited to Ecuador for work. He was reluctant to go but Janet persuaded him saying it was too good an opportunity to miss. Cyril went but always wanted to go back with Janet.

“When I retired, I made a plan to go to the Galapagos Islands and, in the pictures, you can see how happy Janet was and how pleased she was to be there to see the tortoises. She was overjoyed being there with all this wildlife at your fingertips. That was the highlight of all the holidays we ever went on.”

Janet and Cyril had five grandchildren who became the real apples of Janet’s eye in her retirement, or her ‘biggest joy’, as Cyril puts it. He fondly remembers her ever-inventive cooking too. “She was always doing something to please me and never made the same meal twice.”

It was during a trip to Rome in 2016 that Janet started to feel unwell. Tests revealed she had ovarian cancer. After surgery, treatment and numerous hospital stays – all the while being cared for by Cyril – Janet became so unwell she was admitted to St Christopher’s in August 2022 and died at the hospice four days later.

Cyril recalls Janet’s bravery and honesty in her final days. “She told me, ‘you must be happy for me because I am happy to go because I am in so much pain’.”

“I’ll never forget her smile. And the way she was with everybody. We had a lot of friends – mainly her friends!”

Who will you never forget?

Every year, thousands of our supporters dedicate a light on our hospice trees, to remember someone special who has died.

Help light the way for those who need us most.

Donate and dedicate

Tricia and Vee’s story

Veronica Stylianou died aged just 45 at St Christopher’s in March. For her mother, Tricia Ellis, it’s left a huge hole in her life, highlighted most notably by the conversations they can no longer have.

“I’ll never forget our chats on the phone”. Tricia remembers fondly.

“She was a great one for talking. I’m not a natural chatterer on the phone, but she loved to chat and the one person I would do it with.

“She’d say, ‘Mum, can I run something past you?’ and two hours later we’d still be talking. She’d call several times a week and was always up for a chat. She wanted me to give an opinion and for her to be reassured about all the small decisions in life. She was completely different with the big things. Like the way she coped with the gobsmacking diagnosis of cancer without ever questioning it and asking “Why me?”. That’s my abiding memory of her.”

Tricia and her husband, Mike, adopted Veronica, or Vee (as Mike quickly christened her and as she was known by everyone) when she was four. Vee was always creative growing up and went to Cardiff Art School. “Art was her passion. She was also a very sociable person and had so many friends. Vee brought everyone together with her loving and exceptionally caring nature.”

This was probably best illustrated at the funeral. The 150-person capacity was far exceeded, with family and friends attending from far and wide, including Australia. The funeral also typified Vee’s selflessness. Once she knew her prognosis, she insisted on making all the plans for the funeral, including visiting numerous venues in search of the right one – Bluebell Cemetery near Sevenoaks. She didn’t want her husband Alex to be burdened with all the funeral arrangements after she’d gone.

Vee had enjoyed a successful career working with fabric companies as an account manager. She was married to Alex, and they had two sons, George and Leo, and lived in Hayes.

She was diagnosed with bowel cancer in April 2021. After major surgery, several hospital admissions, six months of chemotherapy followed by immunotherapy, Vee was referred to St Christopher’s in January this year and died on 14 March.

Tricia visited almost every day and held the fort at home as she had throughout much of Vee’s illness. This allowed Vee and Alex to spend as much time as possible together.

Vee’s husband Alex was so grateful for the care the hospice provided, he set up a giving site which has so far raised more than £10,000 for St Christopher’s.

When Tricia looks back, she remembers fondly an occasion which was typical of Vee’s creativity, planning and generosity.

“I remember Christmas 2021 when she was feeling ok during her treatment, she invited Mike and I plus her older sister Jenny and her husband and 3 sons for a Christmas meal. I went into the dining room and she had set it all up and the table was just – wow! I curse to this day I didn’t take a picture of it. It was just so stunning, and beautifully colour coordinated. That was a nice memory of a very happy family day as it was the last time we had all the family together with her hosting it.

“But most of all I’ll miss our chats.”

Who will you never forget?

Every year, thousands of our supporters dedicate a light on our hospice trees, to remember someone special who has died.

Help light the way for those who need us most.

Donate and dedicate

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