“We shall not cease from
And the end of all our
Will be to arrive where
And know the place
for the first time”
— TS Elliot
The Western world has the reputation of being a death-denying culture.
And in some people’s lives, death is something not to be talked about and the person who is dying must not be told that their illness is terminal, for fear that they might give up. But the approaches and responses to death and dying are shifting.
Dr Matthew Farrelly of St Francis Hospice Raheny in Dublin says: “I think there is a sense of openness around living with an illness that might not exist in other societies. We would often hear about strong community responses to a diagnosis of a life threatening or terminal illness: friends or even strangers to the community taking part in care rotas, providing meals and food for families while someone is being treated.
"Even when we live in built-up areas, the rural experience is not far away in our history; with that comes a sense of connection.”
Hospices flourished in the Middle Ages but languished as religious orders became dispersed. Hospices were revived again in the 17th century France by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. In 1879, the Sisters of Charity opened Our Lady’s Hospice in Harold’s Cross, Dublin.
As many as 20,000 people who were primarily suffering from cancer and tuberculosis came to the hospice to die between 1845 and 1945. The Sisters of Charity expanded internationally.
In 1905 they opened St Joseph’s Hospice in London and it was there in the 1950s that Cicely Saunders developed many of the foundations that have become integral to modern hospice care.
So what is the hospice philosophy? Basically, one which aims to support patients, families and friends from the early stages of diagnosis of a life threatening disease.
But people’s attitudes can vary; some think of the hospice as simply a place for dying — the place of last resort. Bantry Hospice provides palliative care and support throughout West Cork and South Kerry, a community initiative which has been highly successful since its formation.
Co-chair Damian Moloney is also a garda with the Immigration Department, passionate about the work of Bantry Hospice.
It was after Pat Morrissey, a friend of mine died at a very young age in 2007. His family looked after him at home and after his passing, we organised a fundraising walk so that we could start some sort of support service.
We were fortunate in that we had people like Dr Dennis Cotter and Brigitte Wagner-Halswick of Rowa involved. And that day, we raised €40,000 and presented a check to Marymount Hospice.
Then we met with the management at Bantry Hospital to discuss palliative care there, and from then on, we began to meet as a group, determined to get something together for West Cork.
At first we were thinking of securing a house which we would equip but when we spoke to people at Marymount about our plans, they felt we should go to Bantry Hospital as they already had everything on hand.
And we got the go-ahead to develop our unit on St Joseph’s ward. There are two fully functioning units with beds, bathroom and shower, a kitchen and a balcony.
And family and friends can enter directly from the back of the building. We had one lady who was staying there last year who told us how much she enjoyed sitting on the balcony.
She said it was great to feel the breeze on her face. Those simple things can make such a difference.
It is a continuing problem in rural areas that people often have to travel huge distances to access care, and at a time when this may be particularly difficult.
Bantry Hospice believes the facility in Bantry enables people to remain close to their family and friends rather than having to travel back and forth to Cork. This can be hard on people.
That journey to Cork can take up to two hours and it can be exhausting. A lot of the Hospice ethos is to do with the quality of a person’s life and that is something we are very concerned with.
Yes, we have just kept going and we support a palliative care social worker, nurses who all cover huge areas. We’ve supplied morphine pumps for home care, beds, a recliner and we have an active night nurse campaign.
And there is a house sitting service which means that if you are looking after an ill person at home, someone who is qualified can step in for you to allow you to have a break or take care of some messages. And we have a Hardship Fund.
Last year we were able to help a young mother provide Christmas for her kids. So it’s a pretty wide range of services. And we are working on opening an Arc House here in Bantry. It will provide a range of services and activities once a week, and it will be opened by Graham Norton who has been very supportive from the beginning.
We have been lucky to have people coming forward who perhaps can’t afford to give money but want to help and ask what can they do. And of course, Brigitte Wagner-Halswick, who is always there for us, ready to step into the breach.
It’s seeing the difference the Hospice makes, like the son whose mother was sent home from Marymount to Bantry. I met her son in town after her mother had passed away; he said: “You don’t know what those two or three hours we got back meant.” That makes me fierce happy.”