My day begins with booking lunch (that's important and I'll tell you why later) and then going to my office, which I share with Nikki, the hospice’s social worker, and Pam, the administrator in Living Well. Quick look at emails and then down to the In Patient Unit (IPU) to see what changes have happened since I was in last. I'm part time, working Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and the big gap over the weekend is filled by Jackie who volunteers as a chaplain working mainly in IPU. On the way back from the IPU I pop into the chapel to make sure it's looking OK and to pause before the day really begins...

…Off down to the Living Well lounge, as patients and carers are arriving, and I make myself a coffee and sit with them as they drink theirs.  The conversations continue in the lounge or the art room or, if someone wants more time, we may find somewhere quieter in one of the smaller lounges dotted around the building.  Katharine House has lots of little hidden spaces because listening matters, it's one of the gifts that all of us who work here can offer.  

At 12 noon people from Living well and patients from IPU (sometimes in their beds) gather for the chapel service. The service is shaped around those who are there and the life of the hospice and always finds a focus in the candles that people light and the concerns they share with each other.  

And then it's time to eat the lunch that I booked (which, for me, doesn't take much choosing because I usually have soup) in the staff and volunteers dining room. There's enough room for 8 to 10 people and the conversation meanders and shifts from one subject to the other as staff from across the hospice come and go. There’s lots of laughter, building community and belonging that we've missed during lockdown.

Lockdown and Coronavirus has changed so much for us all, including the life of the hospice. In March, Living Well had to close and, since then, along with others in the team, I’ve been supporting patients by phone, and some of those conversations have been long and hard as this continues to be a difficult time. I’ve also kept in touch with staff, some of whom, like me, have been working from home while others have been on the frontline. All of us at the hospice struggle at times, me included, in our care and concern for patients and the jobs we do as we juggle that with the cares and concerns from our own life. 

Lockdown has eased and a lot of us are returning to the hospice. I’m back on IPU where I spend the second half of my day. Here I see patients and their family and friends and, of course, those conversations will often be about really difficult things surrounding illness and dying and loss. But the conversations will also be about nature, art, music, sport, family, friends, religious belief and lots more. 

The other day a patient described to me in great detail the beauty and excitement of her lifetime’s work of creating dance with people. She was such a poorly person and yet her eyes sparkled and her face shone. She was radiant and, despite what was happening to her body, she was so alive. As well as religious belief, this is what spirituality is about.

Sometimes a patient will ask me to pray with them, and often this will happen with family and friends holding hands and gathered around a bed. At other times nothing is said, and I sit in silence with the patient and their loved-ones recognising that this moment needs no extra words.  

Often people just need time alone to work things through and that’s why the chapel is so important.  It’s a place where patients, their family and friends, volunteers and staff can take their thoughts, joys and sorrows. They may write a message on a leaf and hang it on the tree that stands in the corner, take a stone, choose a card or they may sit quietly, be drawn in by the art and stained glass or light a candle. The chapel is a place that holds so many secret thoughts as people have sat alone in silence over the years.  It's my job as a chaplain to make sure that the chapel can embrace all of this.  

My day ends when the conversations finish, and often the last of these is with the nursing staff, some of who may be just arriving to see the hospice through the night.  But before I go, I look in on the chapel and notice that someone has written in the book of memories and a few more candles have been lit. 

I drive home to Oxford, with the conversations still in my head and not listening to the other one that's happening on Radio 4. Home, if it’s summer I’ll walk down my garden, which I love so much, and then Susan and I will eat sitting in front of the television, usually starting with something funny. I do like to laugh. 

Katharine House Hospice