‘There is no better feeling than when you see a patient reach a point of acceptance’
Adam Graham, 41, hospice nurse, Newcastle upon Tyne
People say: your job must be very depressing. Actually, it is not. Of course there are sad moments, but they are few and far between. A hospice is not a place where you will die; many people come home. We specialize in palliative care, which means making the best of your life. Obviously, death is part of that. But death is also part of normal life.
Many people who come here have lost hope; perhaps your symptoms are overwhelming or you are psychologically distressed. Our job is to show them that things can and will improve. I ask them about their symptoms, their fears, what they need. Perhaps they are worried about getting their affairs in order, or suffering, or want to communicate with someone they have not spoken to for a long time. Helping with that is the hopeful part of my job. Obviously, we can’t work miracles, but we can do a lot to give people the best possible quality of life.
There is no better feeling than when you see a patient reach a point of acceptance, of calm. When they realize that it is possible to have a good death and lose the fear and stigma that may have carried going to hospice. That makes my work worthwhile. However, I have to decompress outside of work. Exercise is my thing: basketball and swimming.
I have seen people in dire straits, physically and clinically. They come to me and I think: how am I going to solve them? Sometimes you think it is impossible. But we almost always can. I see that every day.
‘Pain is a beautiful thing because it shows how deeply humans connect’
Marlene Jenas, 64, grief counselor, London
Grieving clients often tell me that they have given up hope; my job is to bring them to a place of acceptance. Some arrive in six or 12 weeks; others take longer. I can tell when our sessions are about to end: they enter the room differently: they have reached a point where they can move on; pain no longer interferes with your daily life.
The process of getting a person accepted is different for every client, of course. The main thing is to let them know that they are in a space where they are listened to and accepted. I will listen to what they have to say and there is no rush or obligation: it is not like talking with friends. Once they are comfortable, we go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, guilt, acceptance. It’s rarely a linear journey – people can go through different emotions for months or even years.
People think that being a grief counselor is depressing, but that’s not true. People are grieving, but that is a beautiful thing, because it shows that they are connected to someone deeply enough to mourn their death. The human connection is ultimately what it’s all about; we are inherently loving creatures.
I try to stand firm when I am advising my clients. But I am human, I feel your pain. Sometimes I hold back tears and have to take a break between clients to regain my composure. They all stay with me. I’m sorry for her sadness, but I try to find a way to let her go.
I practice mindfulness, meditation and sound therapy. I will have a little jam session with my Tibetan bowls, which are amazing, they totally knock you out. Or I like to go for a walk, to the forest or to the park.
The first client I cried with was a mother who had lost her son. He was just one. I sat down and cried with her. But even then, he was hopeful. When her other children hugged her, she looked at them and thought it would be okay, because it had to be, for them.
I see the resilience of humans every day. Clients arrive in the depths of pain, unable to see a way out of the dark. I help you find this little point of light; it expands into a shimmering expanse of warmth and they feel like life can go on again.
‘Getting someone out of a fire is the best feeling in the world’
Caz Whiteman, 34, fireman, Sheffield
As a firefighter, you are always preparing for the worst, from a major fire to a highway accident. We spend most of our time training; It has taught me that you cannot control everything that happens in your life, but you can do everything you can to prepare yourself and trust the people around you.
I keep hope by focusing on what I can do to help others, not what might happen to me. When I come across a burning building, I am not afraid. My training begins and there is a lot of adrenaline. The only thing that goes through your mind is: we have to get this person out. That’s why people do the work. I remember the first time I pulled someone out of a fire, then I looked at my colleague and we both had the biggest smiles on our faces. It really is the best feeling in the world.
As a firefighter, you see the worst things life can throw at people. In recent years, we have been called to more and more suicides. Or I can attend a house fire and see that someone has lost all their belongings. But then you visit them again, further down the line, and that horrible period of their life is over. They have come out the other side.
What helps later is talking about it. We always check in after a major incident over a cup of tea. As long as I have done everything possible for someone, I cannot ask for more of myself.
‘I tell myself that humans will not go extinct’
Dr. Jaise Kuriakose, 44 years old, lecturer at climate change, Manchester University
Hope is a problem for me. My professional perspective on climate change is that we are not entirely doomed, but it is certainly not good.
A climate change scientist is, by definition, an optimist; I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t believe it could be stopped, but I doubt. I will feel hopeful when a government announces a new policy or there is a breakthrough in renewable energy. Then I dig into the details and it’s not really that ambitious or innovative. But I tell myself that it is still a step in the right direction.
I’ve been feeling more hopeful lately. The Covid lockdown reduced emissions. Business airline travel is likely a thing of the past. China, Japan and South Korea announced that they would be carbon neutral by 2050. Joe Biden will almost certainly rejoin the Paris agreement. Boris Johnson recently announced an action plan against climate change.
I am from India and have seen firsthand the droughts, floods and landslides that climate change causes. I can get upset with the complacency of people in the west and I worry about my family because they will be the first to be affected by it. But I think human beings are incredibly adaptable. Things will not be the same in the future. There will be loss of human life, loss of species, mass migration. But we are not facing the extinction of humanity. At least that’s what I tell myself.
When I feel desperate, I find joy in simple pleasures: going for a walk or meeting friends; sipping a coffee. People are often fascinated and grateful for the work I do, which also makes me feel better about my ability to change the world.
‘Goodness and chocolate go a long way’
Mary Finn, 64 years old, Social worker, Morpeth
It is a privilege to be a social worker. People let me into their lives, not always willingly, but usually they want to work with us. Most parents really want the best for their children. Even when you are dealing with a family in very difficult circumstances, you have to turn it around and realize that there are many more families that are coping well.
Over the past year, with Covid, I have seen a lot of resistance from the families I work with. They are dealing with financial concerns, domestic abuse, or mental health issues, and they tell me they weren’t sure how they were going to cope. Yet they did. Sometimes people are so downcast about life that they don’t appreciate the skills they have. They need someone like me to point it out.
Humor is very important to do my job. Also, be nice to each other. Making cups of tea at the office, that kind of thing. Kindness and chocolate go a long way.
I also have to be kind to myself, or it can be exhausting. People don’t like social workers; they are anxious when we are involved. There were times early in my career when I took my work home with me. I was exhausted. I had to learn to accept that you can’t always change things and that I have to practice self-care. It is nothing fancy. I go to Pilates twice a week. I walk my dog. I read a lot. I talk with my friends.
My community fills me with hope. People are donating to our local food bank; There was an amazing response to an advertisement for Christmas toys. Covid has made us realize that caring for the elderly was not good enough. Marcus Rashford’s campaign was a wake-up call for many people.
I always feel hopeful because the alternative is to feel sad about things, and that is useless. Incorporating hope into your daily life is a bit like climbing a mountain: it seems too big, but if you focus on something small and manageable, it is much more achievable. I saw a kingfisher the other day. There are otters that return to a river near where I live. Things are improving.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism