Tracey Jacob, St Mungo’s Housing Management and Lettings Coordinator, based in Westminster, shares her experience of working with people who are homeless and near the end of life.
When a person has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, there are no words that can describe the emotions or feelings.
When a client has no family, or has not been in contact with them, or wishes for them not to be informed of their illness. When a client makes a decision that he does not want to go to hospital or a hospice but wants to stay at home. This is when you realise they may see you as their family.
Over the years, I have known and supported people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
There are guidelines, other colleagues, to help support and direct us as staff in that situation. But it’s those words – “I want my keyworker” – which cannot be substituted.
With one of my clients, I had to start a conversation with him about being resuscitated. I didn’t know how.
I called his GP who arrived the same evening to ask the questions and do the paperwork.
I had to fight back the tears as I did not want the client to see me crying.
The GP had a one to one with me after the meeting as well, to debrief me and make sure I was OK. These are the situations that don’t get seen, or talked about.
On another occasion, I had to go through my client’s clothes to take some to the funeral parlour, wiping away the tears as I have never dressed a person who had passed away.
My thoughts were, I want the client to look lovely, hoping that I chose a good outfit. I was given a cup of tea and they explained that I was not expected to do this, they would do it. These are the things that don’t get seen, or talked about.
I have worked for St Mungo’s for many years. Any death is difficult. I have learnt that it’s ok to say “I need help and support” and to step back, take a few minutes to regroup your thoughts.
For me, I take away that the person was not alone and I did the best I could do.
It was Dying Matters last week . Please see our other blog by St Mungo’s Palliative Care Coordinator, Niamh Brophy, on the work being done to prevent people who are homeless dying on the streets.