Welcome to our Thought for the Day page. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our resident Chaplain, James, has been writing a Thought for the Day for the staff at Katharine House to help everyone feel more connected. James is kindly allowing us to publish them because we felt they would be helpful for the outside world as well.

We’ve made a selection from the past few months, which we hope you’ll enjoy reading, especially as they also form something of a diary of our times as well. We’ll be adding new ‘Thoughts’ from James each month (they are now ‘Thoughts for the Week’), so please do return to this page to read more. 

Wednesday 15 April 2020

As I arrived at the hospice last Wednesday, two removal vans were loading furniture, bed screens were being delivered and maintenance contractors unravelled their spaghetti of cables and new sockets for the six beds already parked in the chapel.

Everything has changed for all of us in the last few weeks, including the places where we live and work.  For some of us those places have merged, for others our work place has closed as the hospice shops have shut, a few of us are in a temporary office at Bloxham Mill, some are on furlough, and those of us still at the hospice are navigating a new floor plan and maybe even hotel accommodation when we're not at work.  New territory for all of us where home will find new walls and work a new structure through the gentle guide of good relationships and those we hold close to us, albeit maybe at a distance,  through this time. 

Thursday 16 April

Last week I removed everything from the chapel. The tree and its leaves, the table of bits and pieces, the cards and stones, the doves we'd just put up, the religious symbols in the windows and even the stained glass panel. Everything went except the plaque and the black and white photograph of Katharine whose death gave life to the hospice. Katharine's story and the generous and gracious way that her parents Neil and Heather have shared it, lies at the heart of the compassion and love that has surrounded the care we have all been involved in providing over the years.  This is the story we'll continue to tell over the next weeks as a Coronavirus Response Centre, which is still called Katharine. 

Tuesday 21 April 

On my last day at the hospice, after taking the final things out of the chapel I set up a new one in the hairdressing salon.  Special places of reflection, sacred spaces, can move. The Archbishop of Canterbury led a virtual Easter Sunday Service from his kitchen. Ramadan will happen this year without the mosques being open. In our little box room at home I light one of the electric candles that I brought from the hospice chapel at 5pm each day when I think of us all.  Anywhere can be sacred and special and hold meaning because of what we bring to it.  Each one of us brings meaning to a space. We make it sacred.  The chapel has moved. Anywhere can be sacred.

Thursday 23 April 

Today is Thursday and so, like many thousands of people, Susan [James’s wife] and I will go outside and cheer the NHS and those who are front-line workers through this crisis. In our road more people have come out each week and it's getting noisier too with spoons and pans and bells adding to the applause. Probably like you I think of us at Katharine House, especially the nursing and medical staff at the Horton and on the Inpatient Unit (IPU) along with other clinical, housekeeping and catering staff. Like you, I think of others as well, my niece who's a doctor in a London Hospital, my daughter-in-law who's a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit ( ICU) in Oxford and those who care for my mum in the nursing home where she lives in Colchester. Then there's the guy from Sainsbury's who drops off our shopping, the bin men and postman (all men in both cases), the shelf-stackers and check-out staff at our local store, and so many more. Thursday is a day when we have the briefest of street parties but not for a Royal Anniversary or Jubilee, and we clap and cheer not for any television, sport or music celebrity.  This crisis has turned everything upside down; school exams and university, work and home, holidays, the lot, including who we now recognise as the important ones.  Let's hope that the applause goes on and on and on. 

Friday 24 April

On Friday night I like to listen to the News Quiz on Radio 4, but less so now because of the lack of laughter.  The panellists take part from their own home and so there's no studio audience.  It's just not as funny and it's a bit like watching a football match with no crowd there.  The audience and the crowd help us to laugh and cheer.  They also help the comedian.  It must be hard to crack jokes and not hear an audience laugh and how many times have you heard a footballer say "the fans have been fantastic"?  Most of us need other people around us to cheer us on and we do that at work though conversations in the corridor and across the desk, in the dining room and the IPU office.  We applaud and affirm each other, console and comfort, listen and laugh and most of us need that like the footballer needs the crowd and the comic needs the audience.  Those of us who are working at the hospice still have it.  For the rest of us, the 'phone and email, FaceTime and Facebook, WhatsApp and Zoom and all the rest will have to do to bridge the gap, and for now the News Quiz will be just a bit less funny, even if the comedians are just as good.  

Monday 27 April 

It's Monday and, for those who work from home, this is the day when the home becomes an office again, or a school or a playground for a bit and then a school again. There's no longer the drive or walk to separate work and home, the particular clothes that make you feel different and closing the door to one part of life and entering another. "Just give me a moment, I'm just finishing something" is the cry that betrays that our worlds are colliding, doing one thing and having to think about another.  We miss the boundaries because they give us control and make what feels like a messy life a little bit more tidy.  But life is messy and out of control for everyone it seems at the moment, even for the most powerful people and governments. Life is messy and we can't always control it.  We see this all the time in the patients that we care for.  But very often we also see in those same patients, and those who surround them, a love that holds and carries them through. 

Wednesday 29 April

The rain has come this week.  If they haven't done so already, is this the time when those I queued with in Homebase a week before the lockdown, snap the lids off the paint they were buying and get on with the decorating? Wet paint!  A friend of a friend described the world we're living in at the moment as a place where every surface is like wet paint. Don't touch! Every door handle, railing, petrol pump and gate is like putting our hand on wet paint.  Don't touch!  And if you do touch, you wash your hands afterwards. It was one of the first rules we learnt in order to live in this new world.  The surfaces are still wet, they're not even tacky yet, and certainly not dry, and definitely wouldn't take a knock.  To do it properly, decorating takes time and patience.  You have to wait for the paint to dry, to really dry.  

Wednesday 6 May

At 5pm each day Jackie [the hospice’s volunteer chaplain] and I have committed ourselves to spending some time in quiet to remember all of us at the hospice. Mostly I do this in the smallest room in my house. I light an electric candle from a set that I brought home from the hospice chapel. Sometimes in my mind I walk through the hospice, thinking of the people who might be in the rooms on a 'normal day'. From reception I walk up to IPU, then back up the corridor as far as the art room, upstairs and along to the staff kitchen and then back the length of the corridor to the fundraising team’s office. I glance into each room. Sometimes I visualise people working in the place that I saw emerging on my last day before working from home.  At other times I think of the patients in Living Well, working in the art room, gathering in the chapel, sharing the quiz in the lounge. In my mind, I also go into the hospice shops that I know. You can join Jackie and I any evening.  You can take your own walk and see the people that come to mind. 

You can call the time what you like; silence, meditation, reflection, contemplation, prayer, remembering, thinking.  But what good does it do?  Well, only you can answer that.  I have my own answer and it takes me there at 5pm each evening.

Thursday 7 May

‘See you again next week’ my neighbours opposite said last Thursday evening at the end of our little conversation, which has become a habit, after clapping for the NHS and other front line workers.  So we'll be out tonight as well. How long will Thursday at 8pm go on?  It's become a weekly ritual for many of us, as important as going to church or the mosque or the synagogue or the temple, for that's what the word ‘ritual’ is usually associated with. It's become a weekly ritual when we do come together to recognise and remember and when, alongside the grief of this time, we also take a moment to celebrate. It would feel odd if it didn't happen, and I would feel as if I was missing out if I didn't do it. Unlike church, the mosque, the synagogue and the other religious gatherings, this ‘ritual’ will eventually stop. But the ‘ritual’ of remembering and recognising what matters doesn’t need to, so I will continue to get to know my neighbours.

Monday 11 May 

VE Day. The end of the Second World War in Europe. The pandemic that we are living through has been compared with war.  It's been called ‘a battle’ by our own politicians and others across the world. 'We will fight this together.' 'We will defeat it.' The similarities with war are that it disrupts everything and affects everyone.  The economy is at risk, the national debt grows, the sick are cared for by a healthcare service that needs rebuilding, the cities are worst hit, the most vulnerable 75 years ago are the most vulnerable now.  Politicians make briefings, the Prime Minister addresses the nation and the Monarch speaks.  Even if we know it's not a battle that can be fought and defeated like a war, there are lots of similarities. Even if it is different; face masks instead of gas masks, PPE instead of combat gear, there are lots of similarities, and most of them are because we feel vulnerable. When we feel vulnerable we need other people, so the crowds gathered on VE Day to celebrate and acknowledge this.   One day we too will gather but, until we do, we can still acknowledge and celebrate that we need other people

Friday 15 May

‘Well, James, it's time to put our underpants over our trousers,’ Lisa, one of our IPU nurses, said to me as the hospice prepared itself for this crisis.  I laughed without asking what she meant, assuming of course that she didn't actually mean she was going to do it. What she did mean was that we have to be like superheroes (lots of superheroes seem to wear their underpants over their trousers!). We have to be like superheroes and get the job done.  Well we have haven't we, and we're doing it well.  Reconfiguring the hospice, new systems and protocols, working from home and Bloxham Mill (and learning how to use Zoom!), caring for patients remotely, reworking fundraising, being seconded into new jobs, integrating new staff and even taking furlough. And we're not done yet because things are still changing.  In some workplaces, Friday is 'dress-down' or 'dress-up' day.  It's Friday, so let's all put our underpants over our trousers … or just think of yourself as a superhero! 

Monday 18 May

Monday morning. Working from home. Another week of clicking in and out of conversations.  Zoom, FaceTime, Skype. Click with the mouse or on the iPad and join the meeting, click at the end and leave. Click the phone and dial, have the conversation, click and the conversation ends.  And when the conversation ends it all goes very silent again.  It's immediate and sudden. Next task. There's no fading in and out of things, no random conversation at the end of a meeting or the chit-chat as you walk away, or the greeting as you go back to your 'shared' office and the offer of a cup of tea. You sit on your own and you go and make your own tea and get on with the next task. The higher-pitched voices and crackle and squawk of Zoom, and then silence.  Maybe the voices of children and family for some, but silence from those we work with. Next task. Work is more than just getting things done, clicking in and out of a conversation and moving to the next task. It’s about relationships and the random conversations.  It’s the chit-chat and fading in and out of things that I'm missing.

Friday 22 May

‘Bye.’ ‘Bye.’ ‘Bye.’ ‘Bye.’ ’See you.’ ’Bye.’ That's how most Zoom meetings end with lots of waving, one hand or even two. You can't just sneak out and quietly slip away anymore. If you leave before the others, you have to wave to the rest of the meeting and they all wave back to you at the same time saying, ‘Bye.’ ‘Bye.’ ‘Bye.’ ‘Bye.’ ’See you.’ ’Bye.’ 

Meal in with friends, family gathering or meeting at work, it's become part of the social etiquette of lockdown.  It's one of those funnier and more amusing bits of this odd time that makes me smile and laugh. But is it the first time it's happened?  If you have a moment (1 minute) have a look at this, it will make you laugh too, and even more now because of how we say ‘Bye.’ ‘Bye.’ ‘Bye.’ ‘Bye.’ ’See you.’ ’Bye.’  

Friday 29 May

On Wednesday evening my mum’s nursing home in Colchester ‘phoned to say that she had suddenly become very unwell and suggested to me and my brother that we visit. When I arrived it seemed as though she had passed the worst and, although very weak, was doing a bit better.  We stayed for a few hours and I spent the night alone in her house and came back yesterday because, under current guidelines, we weren't able to visit again because she was now ‘stable’.  That's why there wasn't a Thought for the Day yesterday!

I had many many  'Thoughts' as I drove over on Wednesday evening as I thought she was dying. Lots of them were the usual ‘driving-alone’ ones, which were quite random and went nowhere but, as I got nearer to Colchester, I started to think what I would say to her and what my brother and I would do and say together. I've never asked her those 'chaplain' questions about whether she wants prayers as she is dying. In the end she wasn't dying, but if she had been I still don't know what I would have done except, with my brother, be her son. This is what we did. As we prepared to leave her I asked if she wanted one of us to stay. ‘No,’ she said.  Then she said, ‘you should be going’ and asked my brother to close the curtains, but he went to close the windows too. ‘No, no, no, not those,’ she said, ‘leave those open.’  As we left, we laughed with each other that she was still telling her boys what to do.  

Wednesday 3 June

‘We're all in this together’ is a slogan used by politicians and others to rally people around a cause or a crisis. In the past, the cause has been austerity following the economic downturn. We know what the crisis is now. Whilst we can agree what 'this' is, being in ‘it’ means radically different things to different people. Living on your own or in a family. Elderly or Teenager. Looking after someone or being looked after. Parent or child. Work or no work or too much, or now no job at all. Big garden, no garden. House, flat, mortgage, rent. Health issues and planned operations. 'Essential worker'. 'Shielding'. Wedding, trip back home, holiday of a life-time, all cancelled. Birth or bereavement.  

The list goes on. And, of course, we all respond differently to all of this. At Katharine House we work in a place where we recognise that there is no single response to dying, death and bereavement and where we would never say 'I know how you feel', because we never can.  There is a crisis and a virus that we all have in common but its impact on our lives and the way we're dealing with it is different for all of us.  'We're all in this together' can sometimes sound like 'I know how you feel'. 

Monday 8 June 

‘How are things going at St Katharine's House?’ a friend asked me the other day.  I told him, after saying that there was no 'St' in the title.  I also told him who Katharine was and why it was named after her.  Many hospices have 'St' in front of them;  St Joseph's and St Christopher's, which were at the forefront of the modern day hospice movement, St Barnabas, St Mary's, St Helena's and there is even a St Catherine's, so I understand why my friend had assumed we had a 'St' in our name as well. I'm glad we don't. I'm glad we have the name of Katharine Gadsby, because it reminds me that the care of patients and their loved ones lies at the heart of all that we do. It was the tragic death of a young woman and the deep and devastating loss felt by her parents and friends that led to the foundation of our hospice. There is no 'St' in the title -  just ‘Katharine’, the name of a person and a story of love. 

Wednesday 10 June

Before I came to the hospice I was the minister of a Baptist Church in Oxford for 20 years. A multicultural church in a multicultural community with the biggest single group in the church from the Caribbean. Sitting in the home of one elderly woman from Jamaica I asked about a photo that she had on her sideboard. ‘Oh, that is my grandfather,’ she said, ‘his father was the son of a slave.’  In one single photo of a family member she took me back to the transatlantic slave trade.  

The same elderly woman also told the story in a service one Sunday morning of how, when she first came to Britain, she was told to get on her knees to wipe the floors of a large Oxford building. Sensing the racism attached to this order, she refused and asked for a mop to clean the floors. When she was told that she couldn't have a mop and to get on her knees and use a cloth, she dropped the cloth on the ground, walked away and left her job. As she told her story with a great sense of pride, the church cheered and applauded her. This was her protest as a young black woman in Oxford 60 years ago. Young people in Oxford protested yesterday. 

[During the middle of June, James went on leave, so his Thoughts for the Day were paused for a while.]

Monday 22 June

People wearing masks; walking the streets, buying in shops, travelling on public transport. Lots of different masks too. White, black, surgical ones, builders ones, ones with big filters and home-made ones. Flimsy ones that cover your nostrils and mouth and hefty, heavy duty, ones that seem to cover the majority of your face from your chin up to the top of your nose. We bought some (flimsy ones) made by a local resident. She hangs them on a shoe rack fastened to her fence and you put money in an honesty box, which goes to the local community centre. Well done Sheila! They're a bit flowery for me, so I'll stick to my white builders’ ones. You can also buy designer ones with the profits going to the NHS and other charities. People wearing masks. We've always done it, of course, but those masks have been invisible - the smile, when you don't feel like smiling, the positive look when you're feeling anything but … and so on. Sometimes these new masks, these actual masks, also tell others how we're feeling or how we want to be seen.  

Thursday 25 June

Last weekend I built a gazebo. It looks a bit like a bus shelter, but a very nice bus shelter with a bench in it.  It came in kit form. I just had to drill the 152 holes for the 152 screws that hold it altogether. I had two left from the middle of the roof, which I couldn't reach. Whilst I was up at the roof I heard my neighbour say, ‘It's very nice, James.’ We talked for a while, me on my ladder and him in his garden. He told me about the vegetables he was growing. He has lots of vegetables. Whilst we were talking, my neighbour on the other side was working on his bike. My two neighbours, one working on his bike and the other cultivating his veg, and me with my new gazebo. We're all different and what matters to one doesn't matter to another. I don't have any vegetables in my garden and I cut my grass, unlike my bike neighbour who doesn't. What matters to one doesn't matter to another, which helps me as I sit in my gazebo and look at my garden. It doesn't matter. Perspective. In the end, my gazebo and garden really doesn't matter, and knowing that is what helps me to really enjoy it. 

Wednesday 1 July

Distance.  You can travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles to see people, but it's the final 2 metres that prevent you touching or hugging them, or even just sitting that close.  Distance has taken on a new meaning.  On Friday I will travel 120 miles to see my mum and, if the roads are clear, I shall do the journey in 2 hours, pull up outside her nursing home, be escorted through the garden to the French doors of her room and then, reaching an invisible buffer, I will stop. I shall sit on the threshold of her room and we shall talk, her propped up in her bed and most of me in the garden. For three years in the early 90s, as a young family, we lived in the Central American country of El Salvador. Us being 5,000+ miles away was hard for my mum, and for us. Now it’s hard to be 2 metres away, but we shall talk, and after half an hour we'll wave and I'll go. 

Friday 3 July

This is the last of my daily 'Thought for the Day’.  They'll be weekly from now on. I've written them at a particular time, and that time is changing. It's changing for me. Today  I'm going into the hospice, and onto IPU, for the first time in three months. I'm excited, apprehensive and aware that it will be very different from the last time I wandered down the corridor with my shirt sleeves rolled up. In contrast to that, I know I'll feel awkward in my PPE.  I'm really looking forward to seeing staff and, once again, sharing in the privilege of being with patients and their loved ones. I also know that I will leave with lots of 'thoughts', even if I won't be sharing them daily with you.  There will be lots of time for ‘thoughts’ as I drive away, not back home but to Colchester to visit my mum in her nursing home.  I shall stay overnight in her house after my 6 o’clock 30-minute slot this evening and my 11 o’clock one tomorrow morning. I shall be met at reception by warm and empathetic staff and taken through the garden to the threshold of her room where I will sit and talk with my mum. In one day, a member of staff and a visitor, offering warmth and empathy and receiving it, a helper and the one who is helped.   

Thursday 9 July

This is a 'Thought for the Week'.  ‘Thought for the Week’ as opposed to ‘Thought for the Day’.  So I heard myself thinking, ‘Well, I need to make it really good then,' especially if I've had a whole week to think about it.  We bring pressure on ourselves don't we (well I can), as we strive for excellence and as we seek perfection?  I can't remember what it was about but I was beating myself up about something in a supervision session when my supervisor simply said, ‘James, you’re good enough.’  

Not long after I heard a speaker at a conference talking very frankly about her own desire for perfection and how she now tells herself that what she has done is 'good enough', instead of the psychological beating that had so often been the pattern of her life.  I Googled ‘good enough’ yesterday and wasn’t that surprised to learn that ‘good enough’ is a psychological tool to help us bring a bit of perspective to what we do.  It's needed in the highly achieving, striving for excellence, looking for perfection world that we live in. 'Good enough'.  'It's good enough'.  'You're good enough'.  That's 'good enough' for my Thought for the Week.  

More from James

You can read A day in the life of James as a part of our series looking at the work that our staff do at Katharine House.