"What do you say to someone facing a life-changing diagnosis? I have no idea - but I'm a good listener and that helps."

Penny Fisher has volunteered as a befriender and bereavement supporter at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice since 2008, following the death of her husband. Here, she tells us why she gives her time.

Thorpe Hall volunteer befriender Penny Fisher
“I found that I was able to use my own experiences - helping my husband through his last few months and my own bereavement journey - to help others."

I became interested in volunteering after the untimely death of my husband, who also lived with dementia, during our retirement abroad. Shocked by the lack of support we were offered, I decided I wanted to use our experience to make sure that others receive better palliative and bereavement support than we did.

After returning to the UK, a position at Thorpe Hall was the perfect opportunity to give something back and find a new calling.

I remember driving up the driveway to the hospice for the first time and I was struck by how beautiful the place was. The peace and tranquillity of the grounds and the beauty of the building told me I’d made the right choice.

My first day

On my first day, I was introduced to my mentor Rosie. After just a morning of induction, I started working with Rosie as a volunteer on the inpatient ward meeting patients and their families.

I was struck by just how easy it was to build relationships with people, and how much people just wanted to talk; particularly when some of them were coping with an end of life diagnosis. I did think to myself ‘What are you going to say?’ and the truth is I had no idea. But I'm a good listener and that helps!

I found that I was able to use my own experiences – of helping my husband through his last few months and my own bereavement journey – to help others. Empathy is sometimes more important than sympathy and I learnt that very quickly early on.

"There is sadness at the hospice, but it's not a sad place"

After a few months at Thorpe Hall as a ward volunteer, I decided to train as a bereavement supporter.

After doing this work for a couple of years, I was able to develop these skills further to provide bereavement support to children. It was an entirely new approach but I found myself using the same principles I always have: to listen and be empathetic.

People always say to me: ‘Is it not sad to be in a hospice environment?’ My answer is always the same: there is lots of sadness, but it's not a sad place. In fact it’s a privilege to be let into people’s lives, build a connection with them and support them through this time.

"Immensely rewarding"

I now use the skills I’ve learnt to do more volunteering locally, including for Sue Ryder in our local dementia café and for other dementia causes as well. I find the whole experience immensely rewarding; we’re part of a family and it’s a lovely place to be.

In fact, I get so much more out of volunteering here than I put into it.

Could you be our next volunteer?

Being a Sue Ryder volunteer is a great way to learn skills, meet new people and get involved in your local community.

We welcome everyone and provide training and ongoing support, whatever role you choose. Everyone’s contribution is valued.

Find out more about volunteering at Sue Ryder

Author

Sue Ryder volunteer Penny Fisher

Volunteer

Penny Fisher

Penny Fisher has volunteered as a befriender at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice since 2008, following the untimely death of her husband during their retirement abroad. Shocked by the lack of support they were offered, Penny decided to use her experience to help others.