Helping Hands Volunteer Carmen Shares how her Role Reversed

26 August 2023

Helping Hands Volunteer Carmen Shares how her Role Reversed image

When Carmen Lawrence signed up to become a Helping Hands volunteer in 2021, little did she know that she would soon come to rely on the befriending service herself.

Carmen explains, “I had just moved to Cannich with my partner John when I saw a poster in the local shop looking for volunteer befrienders forHighland Hospice’s Helping Hands service.

I thought this would be an excellent way of helping out and integrating with the local community, so I signed up, completed my training in September, and was given my first client in October.

However, John had started to feel unwell in August, and after an awful couple of months of not knowing exactly how seriously ill he was, he received the diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer at the end of October.

We were really unclear about John’s prognosis - he was on paracetamol and ibuprofen to control his pain but was still really struggling. He was a strong, fit man, who had run many marathons - yet he was in agony and unable to sleep.

Due to how quickly his health was deteriorating, he was only given one shot of chemotherapy on 26 December, and it was discovered he had an inoperable tumour.

Although we received some help and advice from the community nurses and Connecting Carers, we both felt very alone, confused and scared. This was up until the point that Rhona Dunley and Carol Seaton who ran the Hospice’s Helping Hands service, enquired as to how I was and paid us a visit.

Rhona asked to see John, and, as a highly trained nurse, was able to identify straight away that he would benefit from a syringe driver. This was putin place and I was able to manage things a little more easily from then on, with the support of the out-of-hours Palliative Care Helpline when needed. But it was tough.

During John’s illness my daughter got married and gave me my first grandchild. I was so happy for her, but also so sad at the same time which was hard to process. Rhona and Carol listened to me, and understood. It’s so important to have someone to speak to, and they were incredible. I honestly don’t know what I’d have done without their friendship, support and companionship at such a truly difficult time. These ladies are special - they have genuine compassion, and I will never forget what they did for me.

John died in February last year, and my life has never been the same since. We had such a special bond; we met at Latin and Ballroom dancing classes in Lincolnshire in 2016, and were partneredimmediately because we were both tall. We discovered we shared the same birthday, 19th April, and quickly became more than just dance partners. We both loved Scotland and, although looking for a house in the Highlands during lockdown, was far from easy, I am just so grateful that we got to spend a precious although very short time together in our dream location.

Carol and Rhona signposted the Hospice’s bereavement service to me, and I received counselling therapy which has really helped me to adjust to a new life on my own.

Resuming my volunteer befriending work for Helping Hands has given me a sense of purpose. I want to be able to do for others what these ladiesdid for me, and I want to give something back to say thank you to this wonderful service.

My client is a fabulous lady and I just love visiting her and listening to her life stories. She has some mobility issues so I don’t take her out, but I sit and have tea and cake with her. My visits don’t just help her, they also give the family some relief - I am there for both. Sometimes seeing a different face can really give a person a boost, and I can alsokeep an eye on the oven or the dishwasher; or help her fill out a form for example.

I would say to anyone who is considering volunteer befriending to go for it. The Hospice offers excellent training with updates and refresher courses which give me confidence, and I always feel fully supported in my role.

Life is short and you never know what lies round the corner. There will be someone right now who is in a lonely experience just like I was, and you could honestly be their lifeline just by offering friendship, support and a listening ear. It can truly mean the world.”

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