“There are no words”
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.