SINGING FOR SOLACE
“Nearly everyone has lost someone in here, it’s just our way of giving something back.”
- Colin Drew, Douglas Macmillan Hospice Volunteer
Sitting in a bright, sunlit corridor of the Douglas Macmillan Hospice with the dulcet tones of a choir rehearsing in the background, it is difficult to comprehend that Staffordshire resident, Colin Drew, spent some of his darkest days here.
Colins wife, Valerie, battled ovarian cancer for 7 years before being admitted to the hospice for end-of-life care. Sadly, despite the expert level of treatment provided by specialists at the hospice, a rapid decline in Valerie’s health saw her pass away just seven days after her palliative care began.
Two years on, Colin retraces his final days spent comforting his wife. “When the specialist tells you to prepare yourself for end of life care, that hurts”, he recalls. “I curse that disease every day of my life, it hasn’t got a conscience. It never gets any easier, but you just have to get on with things.”
A chance encounter during a visit to the hospice canteen resulted in Colin being introduced to a group of volunteers who sing in a choir led by staff at the hospice.
Colin seized the opportunity as a way to repay those who had cared for his wife. “I’d never sung before, only in the tub!” he admitted. “After I lost my wife, I approached Anthony (Choir Master) and I’ve been here ever since.”
Over the last 6 months, Colin has also been volunteering to take the post from the hospice to be delivered in an effort to help with the administrative side of the operation. “I couldn’t go into the ward where my wife died. Some people volunteer taking the tea trolley, but to think I had to go into the room where she died, no, I couldn’t do that.”
With insufficient funding from the government, Colin explains how vital the work of the volunteers is for the continuity of the hospice. “It costs twelve million pounds a year to keep this place going, one million pounds a month. Whenever we do a concert, all the proceeds come back to here.”
The choir not only provides crucial funding, but also the opportunity for those with similar experiences of losing a loved one to come together and reflect. “That’s why there’s such a big bank of volunteers”, explains Colin. “Nearly everybody has lost someone in here, it’s our way of giving something back. That’s what is nice about it, there’s a lot of people in the same boat as me who’ve lost someone.”
Although many of the volunteers at the Dougie Macmillan Hospice have experienced immeasurable loss, there is an extraordinary sense of hope and a strong desire to continue with life, even amongst the painful absence of loved ones.
Written and Recorded Anna Leydon.