Christmas time at a Sue Ryder hospice

Leckhampton Court Hospice in the snow

Leckhampton Court Hospice volunteer Carol Sandiford shares her experience of spending Christmas with her husband in the hospice’s inpatient unit.

"Christmas in a hospice: maybe not an association that would spring to mind for most people.

"There are those, though, for whom it becomes a reality – a stark reality you might be tempted to say, but it wasn’t like that for my husband Adrian and myself when we spent the Christmas of 2010 at Leckhampton Court.

"I’ve often wondered since about the strange way in which that stay in the hospice seemed to expand time so that we could have our Christmas together, relish it and really relax into it.

"There was, however, one disappointment. This was the Christmas after the great snow in 2010; snow still lingered and it was bitterly cold. So cold that our son and daughter-in-law felt that they couldn’t make the trip that day with our new precious four-month-old grandchild, William, and so we had to wait for the day after Boxing Day for them to travel the 100 miles to be with us."

A royal visit and homely feel

"Just before Christmas, the snow still lying thick, His Royal Highness Prince Charles had come for his biennial visit.

"Adrian had spent his life with art and so, inevitably, he and His Royal Highness talked about precisely that, the problems that arose from painting, of knowing just where to make the mark with the brush, of knowing that no more should be done to any particular painting. They seemed absorbed by the conversation.

"There was an element of the surreal about the encounter, but it was also, for Adrian, a wonderful and absorbing conversation to have at such a time.

"The food for patients in the hospice is all cooked on-site. It’s made every day with fresh ingredients for the patients in the hospice and often their guests have something to eat there as well.

"The Christmas that Adrian was there, I went to have my Christmas dinner in the hospice with him. It was a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings that we both enjoyed."

Creating a sense of festive cheer

"The hospice had taken on its Christmas appearance. It’s a beautiful building and the snow of that year had made it look magical, the honey-coloured stone standing out against the white snow. Of course, the snow had made life difficult for visitors in the run-up to Christmas, but before the day itself easy access had been restored.

"There were decorations up in the hospice, and in the chapel there was a huge Christmas tree. There is always a Christmas tree given as a gift by a supporter of the hospice, but that year it was particularly big and splendid.

"The trees are always decorated and they usually also display messages from the Lights of Love service that’s held in St Matthew’s Church at the beginning of December. People who go to the service often write messages of love and remembrance for those whom they have lost, and these are hung on the lower branches of the tree.

“Christmas is also celebrated at the Day Hospice where patients with life-limiting conditions can come over a period of time to share their lives with other patients who are there. They often do things they have never done before, perhaps some painting or other artwork, some writing, or just to experience the enjoyable and everyday things of life: chattering together or listening to music.

"They have a splendid Christmas dinner, preceded by a Christmas drink, seated round a prettily decorated table. It's a real celebration of life and companionship."

Carols in the chapel

"The hospice has a chaplain, the Rev. Rob Pestell, and he manages to bring the celebrations that go with Christmas into the hospice. There are Christmas carols in the chapel, he organises a choir and those patients who are well enough are able to go as well as their visitors.

"It all helps to underline the reality that the hospice isn’t somewhere set apart. The work that is done there is necessary and invaluable, but the people who go there are able to live their lives as fully as they can – and Christmas is part of that life.

"It’s celebrated by staff sporting Christmas jumpers or earrings, through the decorations and the Christmas trees, in the good food that’s there to be enjoyed and the carols sounding out from the chapel.”

Read more about Leckhampton Court Hospice

Carol Sandiford

Volunteer

Carol Sandiford