Shelagh: “When I walk into here, it is like a different world”

Shelagh Mcdonugh is 83 and lives in West Norwood. She has been visiting St Christopher’s for two months.

Shelagh has breast cancer and has suffered with chest and heart issues as well as having cellulitis in both legs.

She asked her doctor where she could go to find people who would talk openly about death and dying because no one else would. He referred her to St Christopher’s and she was visited in her home to discuss what she could find useful. Shelagh kindly took the time to tell us her story:

“When I walk into here, it is like a different world. Everyone is so positive, friendly and welcoming. I feel so much happier and I’ve met so many lovely people.”

Shelagh visits every Thursday; in the morning she uses the gym and works on exercises to improve circulation that will help to lessen the pain in her legs due to the ulcers. Sometimes she listens to music in the gym too. She has lunch and then goes to a music session. Recently students from the Brit School have been working closely with patients and Shelagh and her partner have decided to write and compose a song from the point of view of Shelagh’s son who was brain damaged and sadly died aged 24. Music is very important to Shelagh as this was one of the few ways she could communicate with her son who couldn’t speak or move.

“John would smile widely whenever he heard music. I once took him to an open air jazz concert and he attempted to tap his foot. To be involved in the song has been the best thing to happen to me for a long time.

“I haven’t found anywhere else quite like St Christopher’s – I feel happy that I have made the decision, supported by people here, that this is where I would like to die. I wanted to feel prepared spiritually and I find that here I can do that. This has also bought great comfort and relief to my family because they know I am happy and at peace with that.

“I want to spend the rest of what life I have left feeling positive. Everybody has to die, that’s just a fact, but I want to approach the end of my life in a spiritual way and not allow negative feelings or thoughts to be part of my life. I am a glass half full kind of person.”

Shalagh’s son has recently bought her a new electric scooter. “It’s like a Harley Davidson!” It has a speed of 8mph and can run for 18 miles before it needs to be charged. Shelagh has decided to undertake a scooter ride, visiting inner London boroughs to raise funds for St Christopher’s. She will stay overnight with friends along the route and has started to contact them ahead of her proposed date of September.

“You don’t have to stop living life just because you’re old. You can enjoy yourself, help others and die well when the time comes.”