How hospices make the holiday season special for families
Hospices are special places. They’re places of peace, light and love, where families spend time with their loved ones, often at the final moments of their life.
They look after people when they most need it – and that incredible care doesn’t stop when it comes to significant festive holidays like Christmas, Diwali, Hannukah or Eid al-fitr. While most patients are looked after in their own homes, for those who need to be in the hospice itself, staff go above and beyond.
Here are just some of the ways that hospices make the holiday season special for families.
How hospices make holidays special:
- 'We hold a multi-faith Light up a Life service'
- 'We help make magical memories'
- 'It might be the last one they spend together’
- 'I sit with patients if they're alone'
- 'We bring Christmas Day forward'
- 'I make sure people aren't alone'
- 'Staff went above and beyond to make her peaceful'
- 'Taking time to reminisce with patients'
- 'We're mindful for those who are struggling'
'We hold a multi-faith Light up a Life service'
Alicia, St John's Hospice
"In December, we host our annual ‘Light Up a Life’ celebration. It's a really special event in our calendar as we see families of all faiths coming together to celebrate and remember their loved ones. The evening begins with a multi-faith service at St John’s Wood Church, with poems and readings by religious leaders from Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu faith groups and our very own staff and patients.
"This year, we've also launched our ‘Light Up a Life’ commemorative lanterns which can be personalised with a special message. These will form a beautiful installation of love and light at the reception and at our hospice in the following week."
'We help make magical memories'
Caroline, Shooting Star Children’s Hospices
“Christmas is such a special time at Shooting Star. One of our most loved events is our Santa’s grotto. We have a day specially for families of children and young people currently using our services and a day for our bereaved families.
"We understand that going to a grotto elsewhere may either not be practical or possible with their complex needs or be too daunting in the first few years of bereavement, so it’s important to us that families don’t miss out on this magical experience.
"We also have festive trips out, from visits to the local reindeer farm to a twirl around the Christmas tree in the ice rink at Hampton Court Palace (wheelchairs and buggies welcome!). We pride ourselves on getting to know every family member in our care, so over Christmas, every child and sibling who visits for a day, at an event, or for respite care, receives a gift that’s been personally selected for them, helping to make magical memories.”
'It might be the last one they spend together’
Jo, St Ann’s Hospice, Greater Manchester
“I’ve worked nights on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day in previous years. We take turns each year to work over Christmas and New Year as we all have family we want to be with.
“What’s really important, and not often mentioned about Christmas, is how much we support families and loved ones. Christmas is so important for the people that are visiting patients at the hospice – it might be the last one they spend together. Part of our job is to help make it as special as it can be.
“Visitors get to have a Christmas dinner too. Sometimes we have little ones in spending precious time with their mum or dad. We try to make it as happy a time as possible.
“We have the Christmas lights on, we have Christmas decorations and we cheer everyone up as not everyone will be going home. We even bring in Christmas puddings for each other – last year I made a tiramisu.
“When I started my training, I thought I needed to know all the theory side of things and that’s what would make me a good nurse. That’s part of it, but also so is showing we care. For me the gift of Christmas is being there, taking time to listen and making someone feel valued. This is just as important and that’s what we’ll be doing this Christmas.”
'I sit with patients if they're alone'
Karen, Spiritual Lead, Weston Hospicecare
"One of my most outstanding memories is of an elderly lady, on Christmas Eve. We had carol singers in, so I was going round the rooms and asking if anybody had any carols that they'd like to hear. This lady said she'd like Away in a Manger. She had no family at all.
"So I sat with her while they played it. She just gently sobbed her way through the carol – and I found myself shedding a few tears as well.
"At the end of it she said, ‘that was so wonderful. It reminded me of when I was a little girl.’
"She'd gone right back to those days, transported away from what was happening. She died overnight. I've always remembered that because it was just one of those moments that was beyond words.
"For her, it had completed her journey. She'd heard this carol, played by a little brass band, and it had just touched that point that she needed, to be able to put down all that was going on and just let go. It was quite something."
'We bring Christmas Day forward'
Kim, Keech Hospice, Bedfordshire
“When it comes to Christmas, we take our lead from our patients and their loved ones so that we can cater to their needs and wishes.
“In some instances, that has involved putting on a Christmas meal for a patient's whole family (before Christmas) to allow them to have a Christmas celebration when perhaps they won't be around for 25th December. We have Santas come and deliver gifts, and local businesses (and the biker groups) come to the hospice to deliver donations.
“The whole community really does come together with our team to make memories for those accessing our care. We also have a staff choir that the whole team is invited to join. The choir goes onto the units and sings Christmas songs for the patients to get everyone in the spirit.”
Kim, Keech's Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, shares this touching memory:
"I cared for a lady on Christmas Day who was married with three teenage sons. She asked if her family could come in on Christmas morning to open their presents together. It was so touching watching them. All five were in the bedroom wearing thick knitted jumpers, woolly hats, and drinking champagne whilst opening their presents.
"What mattered to them wasn't the presents, or where they were. It was their family traditions and the chance to still have that moment as a family on Christmas morning, to make more memories together."
'I make sure people aren't alone'
Jules, St Elizabeth Hospice, Suffolk
"Christmas is very much about family and making time for people. It's the same at the hospice. I don't like seeing people on their own, so I will always stop for a chat.
"Day care is an amazing place at Christmas. One day they are making Christmas wreaths with so much glitter, the next it's a sing along with the pantomime dames who have come to visit. The smiling faces around the room just say it all."
Reproduced from an original story by St Elizabeth Hospice.
'Staff went above and beyond to make her peaceful'
Donna, St Barnabas Hospice, Lincolnshire
“As Christmas approached, Mum’s symptoms increased, and we could see the pain getting worse. That’s when it was suggested for her to go St Barnabas Inpatient Unit. The team there were just wonderful. They reviewed her medication, reassured us all and gave us time to talk about Mum’s illness and the impact it was having on all the family.
“On Christmas Eve we brought Mum home for our traditional family meal, but she was absolutely exhausted by the time we dropped her back off at the hospice. The staff went above and beyond to make her peaceful that Christmas, dimming the lights and placing special lanterns at the end of each patient’s bed.
"It was such a gentle, beautiful moment and we all shed a tear knowing that it would be Mum’s last Christmas.”
Reproduced from an original story by St Barnabas Hospice
'Taking time to reminisce with patients'
Liz, Keech Hospice, Bedfordshire
“I remember one Christmas I was working a night shift on a medical ward, as a newly qualified nurse. We had a young woman, my age, who was very poorly.
"We were waiting for her pain relief to work, so I was able to sit with her as she reminisced about what she loved about Christmas. We shared stories of our childhood and there were many similarities. Presents under the tree, brothers taking presents a part and the veg left behind when serving up only to be discovered when washing up! The carol singers and the smell of dark cold nights.
“She stopped briefly and looked at me and said, 'enjoy your Christmases'. A generous kind gift from her to me. As we smiled, we both knew this would be her last Christmas, and it was.”
'We're mindful for those who are struggling'
Jude, St Richard’s Hospice, Worcestershire
“Christmas is a special time for all of us but especially poignant for our patients and their families as it may be their last Christmas together. Leading up to Christmas we decorate the In-Patient Unit with trees and garlands - including the patient rooms - to share the festive atmosphere.
“The nurses usually have a carol service, singing in the corridors for those unable to get out of bed and in the hub for those who are able to mobilise. In the past Dr Becky has played the piano or organ which has made it extra special. On Christmas day all the staff wear something festive: the last couple of years we have been donated Christmas scrubs which brighten everyone’s day. We give every patient a present and we also have a selection of gifts to give out to visiting children.
“Christmas day is a joyful time for most but we are also mindful for those who are struggling and ensure time is spent with both patients and families. The routine of the day continues as normal with medicine rounds and baths etc, then festive lunches are served, each according to the individual patient’s requirements. We arrange meals for relatives so they can eat together with their loved ones where possible.
“Christmas music is played and once the patients’ meals are served its time for the nurses and doctor on call to have their Christmas lunch, beautifully cooked by the catering team. Ensuring patients are settled, we let them know we are eating together on the Unit and to please use the call bells if they need us. We give each other a small gift after we’ve eaten, then it’s back to the patients and making Christmas a memorable time.”
Explore related stories and information to help deal with grief and bereavement over festive holidays.
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