My fantasy funeral would be a celebration with 80s party food

As I envision the grand finale of my mortal existence, the word ‘traditional’ is nowhere
in sight.

No coffins, no sombre gatherings, and certainly no hushed remembrances wearing black. I’m opting for a celebration that mirrors the quirky essence of my existence. A nod to my peculiar life that’s sure to leave everyone scratching their heads.

Let’s kick off the festivities with a grand entrance – or should I say, roll? Forget the fancy coffins or even a cardboard box; toss me straight into a wheelbarrow. Let’s keep it simple, and more importantly, get me cremated ASAP. There’s no need for my physical form to linger any longer than necessary. Efficiency is key to me, even in the afterlife.

Now, about that funeral service everyone dreads – not on my watch! The idea of a traditional funeral service makes me cringe. A group of people gathered around, speaking in hushed tones about what a nice guy I was? No, thank you. No whispers and black-clad mourners here. Instead, let’s throw a party – a bash that I’ve curated from beyond the grave.

Picture it: upbeat tunes I love, sprinkled with just enough morbidity to keep the mood appropriately eerie. A Joy Division track, perhaps? Nothing like a bit of post-punk to get the party started.

And speaking of parties, I’d love a shrine dedicated to the many (un)glorious faces that I’ve managed to ruin perfectly pleasant photos with over the years (sorry mum). The more absurd, the better – because why take life too seriously, even in death? It’s a celebration, after all, and laughter should be the centrepiece.

A photograph of a table of party food, including bowls of crisps, plates of party rings and a Thomas the Tank Engine cake.
Party rings and sausage rolls galore!

Now, onto the sustenance – the food. No fancy caterers or gourmet delicacies; I’m talking about the nostalgia-inducing delights of 80s party fare. Cheese and pineapple on sticks, party rings, and pork pies cut into quarters to make them go further. Cap it off with jelly and ice cream, a culinary throwback
to the simpler times when life was just as sweet.

They say you should never speak ill of the dead, but let’s not sugar-coat things. In the spirit of honesty, let the guests share all the things they thought about me – the cheapness, the grumpiness, the infuriating neck cracking when stressed. It’s a roast I won’t be around to hear, but I’ll be smiling from the great beyond, neck-cracking and all.

So, as I bid adieu to this mortal coil, remember me not with tears, but with laughter, music, and a questionable spread of 80s delights. After all, if death is inevitable, why not make the exit memorable?

In the end, let my send-off be a testament to the joy of imperfection, the beauty of laughter, and a celebration of a life lived authentically – warts, quirks, and all.

:: This story was from our Spring/Summer issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

A day in the life of a hospice housekeeper

Within the vibrant walls of our Centre for Awareness and Response to End of Life (CARE), one individual stands as the quiet force behind the scenes – Tracey Cooke, the unsung hero with a personal connection to the hospice that drew her to join our team.

Her connection with the hospice is deeply personal, rooted in family ties and a desire to turn a painful
memory into a purposeful career. Before joining St Christopher’s six years ago, Tracey worked as both a shop assistant and a teaching assistant. However, the turning point came when her sister spent her final days at the hospice, leaving an indelible mark.

Her initial hesitation, fuelled by preconceptions and painful memories, was palpable. Her mother, influenced by the shadow of grief, tried to dissuade her. She had preconceptions about it being a depressing place, however, the pull toward St Christopher’s persisted.

“When the time did come that I thought ‘I’m gonna give it a go,’ my mum, bless her, wasn’t around, so I thought ‘I’ll try,’” Tracey says.

Revisiting the hospice where her sister died was initially overwhelming. But Tracey found solace and purpose within these walls. She started by working in the public-facing areas before moving to the laundry team. Now she oversees our education space, which opened three years ago. Taking on the role of housekeeper for CARE in 2021, Tracey stepped into a domain where her love for the job, camaraderie with colleagues, and a profound sense of responsibility converged. “I love working over here, I get on with the staff, and I can get on with what I need to do,” she says.

Tracey begins work at 7am and as she’s the only one in the building at this time, she can prioritise the spaces hosting functions before moving onto her routine tasks. Although it’s predominantly a space for education and community engagement, the building’s high-ceiling atrium has also hosted quizzes, concerts, patient’s birthday parties, fashion shows and even a wedding fair. One consistent, however, is that it’ll be Tracey working to get CARE back into shape for the next event.

The scale of the centre often surprises visitors and colleagues alike. “When they have the course or functions on here, I get to see different people, and they pass comment and say things like ‘This is so lovely, do you clean this on your own?’” she says, smiling.

A photo of St Christopher's CARE from the outside
St Christopher’s Centre for Awareness and Response to End of Life opened in 2021

It’s the vibrancy of CARE during these events which bring Tracey immense joy. The bustling energy, a reflection of her efforts. She’s developed relationships and rapport with both visitors, staff and volunteers,
and her role is crucial to supporting this environment. “I see the building almost as mine and treat it as my own house,” Tracey explains, underscoring the pride she takes in her work.

Her role extends beyond the physical upkeep; it’s a labour of love. On some of the more quieter days in the Centre, she’ll bring in her dog, Casey, a chihuahua.

Tracey Cooke stands as a beacon of cheerful resilience, turning personal loss into a source of strength. Her journey at St Christopher’s is a testament to the transformative power of purpose and the profound impact one individual can have on the heartbeat of a hospice dedicated to education, community, and compassionate care.

Our dynamic centre is available to organisations and individuals for hire. To find out more email h.priest@stchristophers.org.uk

:: This story was from our Spring/Summer issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

Alan’s story of getting to France for the Rugby World Cup

How do you tell the story of Alan Newman?

“Who’s going to want to read about me,” he says. In his view. “It’s all a bit boring.”

That comment pales as he begins to reel off story after story.

Tales of kayaking in the French Alps in wild rapids with drops up to 7ft, or of driving 150mph in a Supercharged XKR Jaguar. And that is just what the 62-year-old has been up to since his cancer diagnosis in 2021.

Before that, Alan, whose nickname is Mr Incredible, spent his holidays mountain climbing in France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland, once sleeping next to a 600ft drop tied to a crucifix.

His wife Louise sits next to him in the St Christopher’s Anniversary Centre. Alan has just had an appointment with his pain team and his consultant, Dr Sara Robbins. When he was asked the question we strive to ask everyone who comes under our care – What Matters to You? – his response was instant: watching England’s Rugby World Cup game against Samoa in Lille.

Alan and Louise wear England Rugby World Cup shirts in the stadium with the pitch in the background
Alan and Louise at the match in Lille

“They were worried about me going, they were going to try and stop me,” Alan says. But Dr Sara soon got the measure of him, explains Louise. “Once they realised it was a goal that he wanted to achieve, Sara and the team were all over the pain relief,” she adds.

At this point, Alan – who has an advanced tumour in his head – had got used to challenging medical opinions. His oncologist advised him of the risks of going skiing in 2023, warning him that it would not be nice for his family to bring his body back in the hold of the plane.

“Well, my son Dan is driving so they can sling me in the boot,” was Alan’s reply.

To prepare for the trip to Lille, he had a brief admission to the hospice’s inpatient unit – fittingly he was on Rugby Ward – to get his medication levels right. After that first match, buoyed with optimism, Alan secured tickets for England’s quarter-final win against Fiji and then the subsequent semi-final defeat in Paris against eventual winners South Africa. That trip was booked with all the lads in the pub at 10.30pm, just six hours before they left for Paris.

It was not all plain sailing during the trips over to France, though. With Louise not there in Paris, his nephew and sons were in charge of the medication as well as helping with the wheelchair.

“They nearly piled me out of it a few times,” Alan says, adding: “To be honest, people looked at us like we were mad.”

When Alan was first referred to St Christopher’s in Autumn 2023, his oncologist at Guy’s Hospital had given him just a few weeks to live.

“Anytime someone says that I’ve only got roughly this amount time left, in my head I know I’m gonna beat it,” he says. “It’s never crossed my mind to not approach it like that.”

As a child, Alan had to try to keep up with his older brother and two older cousins. The four of them would spend all their free time out on their bikes, pulling crazy stunts such as cycling straight into a wall.
Alan’s dad was a Commander in the Police and would take all four of them out on his police motorbike. And he once built a zip-wire in the garden which ended with six-year-old Alan smashing into a wall. “Blood everywhere,” he says.

“We called it a ‘yabbadabba-doo’ machine. After I hit the wall my dad said, ‘oh I’ll just go and find a mattress that you can land into’.”

As he got older, he channelled this sense of adventure into rock climbing, off-road biking and skiing. His sons, Dan and Will also took to this way of life as did Louise when they first got together 20 years ago – also during a Rugby World Cup when they travelled over to watch England’s victorious campaign in Australia.

“We realised on that trip that we wanted to be more than friends,” says Louise. “Maybe we got overtaken by all the excitement of Jonny Wilkinson and England winning,” she jokes. “But it was an amazing trip and we started seeing each other when we got back.”

Alan is held up by his two sons after a night at the pub

For Alan, the main difficulty has been the physical impact of his illness, rather than the mental. Despite being able to defeat the odds of his diagnosis by going skiing last year or by that kayaking trip in July 2023, it is becoming harder.

“Since that kayak trip, it’s been downhill. This season I know I’m not going to be able to ski or kayak… so that’s going to be worse for me. Of course, mentally it is hard but nothing like I’d expected,” he says. “Getting up the stairs, getting in and out of bed, not being able to do what I want, that’s harder.”

“Al’s always been incredibly strong mentally and physically,” adds Louise. “He has a built-in resilience.
So, approaching his diagnosis in this way is just how he has to do it. The strength he shows in everything he does is incredible.”

It inspires other people too. A close friend of the couple’s also has cancer. “Al kept encouraging him to go out as much as possible as he knew it would help him,” Louise says.

One of the ways he has kept up with friends is his regular Friday night trips to the couple’s local pub in Chislehurst. Around 20 of Alan’s friends – including his sons and their mates – spend the evening together in what Alan’s dubbed ‘Moretti and Morphine’ Fridays (M&M).

“Then they’ll all pile around my house afterwards,” he laughs, showing me a photo of his two sons helping him home from the pub after a recent trip.

“My boys have been brilliant,” he says. “I’ve got an amazing wife and my big sons who can help me up the stairs or down the pub.”

The couple are also full of praise for the support they have received from the NHS and St Christopher’s.
“I’ve been blown away by the amount of support we’ve had,” says Louise. “When you first hear about palliative care in hospital, you think ‘have we been written off?’ A lot of people don’t realise that palliative care means helping with pain and helping to live. They just think you’ve got hours to live but it’s not like that,” she adds.

“That’s what I thought, to be honest,” says Alan. “But it’s not true. St Christopher’s have been amazing, the place is really great, Dr Sara, the nurses, receptionists, everyone is amazing.”

As the conversation comes to a close, Alan picks up his phone. “I’m gonna give my mate a call to see if he
and his wife want to go for a curry and a pint.”

Mr Incredible indeed!

:: This story was from our Spring/Summer issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

Meet your compassionate neighbours

Being diagnosed with a long term or terminal illness can leave people isolated and alone. In fact, illness aside, many of those living in our communities already face isolation, with few people in their lives to offer company and support.

Helping to combat and alleviate loneliness has become an ever more important part of St Christopher’s
work in the community.

For five years now, this has included our Compassionate Neighbours initiative, which pairs community-based volunteers with people who have long-term, life-limiting or terminal illness, or who are older and socially isolated. Volunteers are known as Compassionate Neighbours.

They connect with someone at home to help people feel supported and part of the community.

Hundreds of people have made valued connections with people they wouldn’t otherwise meet. On our fifth anniversary we wanted to thank those who have been involved, and we got to hear the stories of what being part of it has meant to people.

Billie, Compassionate Neighbour

Many friendships have blossomed since the scheme first started, and the volunteers who shared their stories at our event said the same thing: they have all got a huge amount out of being involved too.
Take Lorraine, who was matched with her community member, Raymond, over a year ago. “I thought: ‘Yes, he’s right for me,’ because I was also looking for someone to talk to, and Raymond made me laugh. That’s what I needed.”

How easy is it to be a Compassionate Neighbour? We think that all it takes is someone who would like to show support, kindness and friendship to someone else in their community. It works on the idea that whoever we are, we all have skills, interests and something special to offer. It doesn’t require specialist expertise or large amounts of training.

Ron, Community Member

Many current Compassionate Neighbours have jobs, families, and other commitments of their own.

We know that taking part needs to be flexible and local to fit in with people’s lives, and these are key features of the project. We think this is why lots of different people want to get involved: the youngest Compassionate Neighbour is 17 and the oldest is 92!

Most importantly, the relationship between matches is based on respect and mutual benefit and because of this, individual relationships flourish.

Ron and Ann Talking at the 2023 Compassionate Neighbours Event
Ron and Ann

We currently have over 120 Community Members across South East London who are matched with Compassionate Neighbours, but as people are really interested in being part of the project, we always
need more volunteers to join in! We would love to hear from you about becoming a Compassionate Neighbour and supporting someone in your community. Click here to discover more.

:: This story was from our Spring/Summer issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

Connect with St Christopher’s – Spring/Summer 2024 

This issue is packed full of interesting articles, from a feature on our Compassionate Neighbours to a look back at our first ever Fun Walk, as well as a reflective collective grief poem.

If you’d like to have future issues sent to you, please register your interest here

If you’ve got any questions or comments about anything you read, or would like to share your experience of St Christopher’s, please do get in touch by emailing communications@stchristophers.org.uk

Connect_magazine_web

A day in the life of our Learning Disability specialist nurse

As a teenager, Phoebe had no idea that the job she now does ever existed. It was experiences in early life that inspired Phoebe’s career choice – once she’d discovered it was an option.

“I used to be a carer for two young adults including my neighbour,” she adds. “I never knew there was such a thing as a Learning Disabilities nurse but as soon as I discovered there was, I started training at 18 and I’ve never looked back.

“There is such a huge gap in access to palliative care for people with learning disabilities and so many inequalities. I think St Christopher’s is the first hospice to create this specific role and that’s why I wanted to take this job.”

Phoebe joined St Christopher’s in January from the Advance Care Planning Team in Tower Hamlets and has set about making this brand new role her own, while making as many people as possible aware of her presence.

It’s fantastic to be able to reduce health inequalities

From one day to the next, her job changes drastically. She can go from contacting, meeting and building relationships with professionals and organisations to working with a patient group to taking phone calls from patients or colleagues.

She also liaises with the learning disabilities teams, social workers, palliative care teams in hospitals as well as care homes in the area. It’s clear she’s already making a difference.

Recently, she helped a woman to move from hospital after she had expressed her wishes to die in the hospice. The woman used Makaton – a communication programme which uses symbols, signs and speech for people with learning or communication difficulties.

Learning Disabilities
A workshop run by Phoebe called No Barriers Here

“Our staff were so receptive to getting to know her needs, they quickly learned her signs and it meant we were able to fulfil her wishes,” Phoebe says.

Keen to raise awareness and dispel any myths or fears, Phoebe has been running workshops both internally and externally. This autumn, she’s planning to shift those fears amongst people with learning disabilities themselves.

“It’ll be informal and we’ll give people a guided tour of the hospice, talk about living and dying and try and make it all feel less scary.”

“It’ll be informal and we’ll give people a guided tour of the hospice, talk about living and dying and try and make it all feel less scary.”

Phoebe knows the importance of accessibility and has been working with our communications team to create easyread versions of our patient information booklets which cover topics such as the services we have on offer, tips on creating a Will, guidance on support after death and the importance of planning ahead.

The first of these to be finalised was the easy read version of our Welcome to St Christopher’s booklet which was launched during Learning Disabilities Week in June.

Currently, Phoebe is working with colleagues on a three-year strategy and by 2026 she’s planning to have significantly raised awareness amongst patients and professionals, created processes specific to patients and increased the experience and quality of care.

Phoebe concludes: “It’s fantastic to be able to reduce health inequalities. You only have one chance to get it right and hopefully we’ll be able to create lots of opportunities to improve the end of life for people with learning disabilities.”

:: This story was from our Autumn/Winter 2023 issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

Our top tips on speaking to children about death, dying and grief

“Grief is one of the most challenging things that we all go through and when coupled with caring for children, it can be even harder,” says Emma Lupton, who manages our Candle Children and Young People’s Bereavement Service.

Knowing how to best to support a child or young person when someone they love has died is a huge worry for parents and carers. That’s why, at St Christopher’s, we offer support for any child or young person from 0-18 years old who has experienced a bereavement and is living within Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.

We offer both individual and group counselling sessions, information sessions for parents and carers, advice and training for professionals, and have a telephone advice service which is open to anyone.

Emma Lupton

“We work closely with parents, carers and the child or young person to understand how they want to be supported,” says Emma. “Our team come from a range of different backgrounds and as well as talking therapy we use play, craft, art and music to help children express themselves.

“For us it is about championing the child or young person’s needs and empowering families to overcome their fears and speak openly about the bereavement,” she continues.

It is natural for parents/carers to want to protect children but it is so important to talk openly as, if we don’t, the death can become taboo or shrouded in mystery and for children this might result in misunderstandings about the death, and children’s imaginings can be more frightening than the reality.

Most children and young people do not need formal bereavement support to help them cope with the death of a loved one. Yet we know this can still be a very difficult time to navigate – especially for the adults around them.

We’ve pulled together some tips to help you have those conversations and support children and young people with their grief.

  • Look after yourself – We know that children tend to cope better if their parent or carer is managing okay. Think of it like putting on your oxygen mask first if you experience issues on a plane – you can only support those around you if you’re looking after your own needs, and please don’t feel guilty about this.
  • Be honest – children and young people need an honest and age appropriate explanation for how the person died. Use concrete, factual language such as ‘death’ and ‘dying’. Sometimes we try to protect children by using phrases such as ‘gone to sleep’ but this can be problematic as younger children do not understand the permanence of death and may even fear going to sleep. We also know children try to fill in the gaps if they don’t have all the facts which can be very scary.
  • Don’t say anything that cannot be unravelled in the future – if the circumstances of the death are particularly traumatic, then be careful not to give a false story. Instead give a simple account that you can add more detail to as the child gets older. It is important for you to maintain trust.
  • Give children a choice to attend the funeral – this is an important human ritual that helps us to grieve, children included. If children are prepared and know what to expect, it can help them to attend.
  • Normalise feelings – reassure them that it is okay to feel a range of feelings from sadness, anger, despair or even numbness. We all respond in different ways and not everyone will cry – but that doesn’t mean they are not upset. You might also see a change in your child’s behaviour – try to see this as a communication of feelings rather than them misbehaving.
  • Try to maintain routines – at a time when their world will feel inconsistent and unsafe maintaining routines can provide much needed safety and stability.
  • Try not to judge – we all respond to grief in different ways. For teenagers it can be helpful for them to go out and socialise with friends. This doesn’t mean they don’t care or aren’t sad. Young children jump between emotions quickly – from sadness and despair about their loss to playing and laughing five minutes later. This can be disorientating for parents/carers but know it is normal and healthy.
  • Be led by them – by checking in and allowing them to guide the conversation and support you will be able to support them in the way(s) they find most helpful, for example ask the child or young person who they want to know at school and how they would like to mark special days or anniversaries.

If you feel you or the young person you are supporting needs more specialised support then please do call us on 020 8768 4533.

:: This article was from our Autumn/Winter 2023 issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

Connect with St Christopher’s – Autumn/Winter 2023

This issue is packed full of interesting articles, from tips on how to speak to children about death to an interview with comedian, TV host and our ambassador, Tom Allen.

If you’d like to have future issues sent to you, please register your interest here.

If you’ve got any questions or comments about anything you read, or would like to share your experience of St Christopher’s, please do get in touch by emailing communications@stchristophers.org.uk

Connect issue 2 autumn 2023
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