OPINION: The privilege of working for North Devon Hospice - Leo Cooper

Barbara Higgs meets Lorri the horse at North Devon Hospice, shortly before she passed away. Picture:

Barbara Higgs meets Lorri the horse at North Devon Hospice, shortly before she passed away. Picture: North Devon Hospice - Credit: Archant

My eyes were fixed on the small screen on the back of camera. I thought if I could concentrate all my energy on making sure the shot was in focus and that the sound levels were right, I could avoid welling up. 

But then, my experience kicked in and I realised, there’s nothing wrong with welling up. So, I allowed my eyes to look up, to meet the gaze of the lady I was filming. Her eyes were full of tears. So soon were mine. But I felt present with her, and I felt her relief at sharing her painful story. 

I also felt an immense amount of privilege that she would open up to me in this way, that she would talk about the prospect of her own death and the torment of leaving her loved ones behind. The whole experience made me go home and hug my wife and daughter extra tight that afternoon. 

The reason for this emotive interview was to tell a story. It was a story of a young North Devon mum with a husband, a child, a pretty house and a dog. But crucially, this was a young mum with terminal cancer, who was being cared for by North Devon Hospice, and that’s why I was there. 

For nearly 15 years it’s been my job to tell stories about the work of the hospice, in order that our local community can understand exactly what care is provided and the impact it has on local families. 

As a local charity, it is our duty to tell stories about our care, so that the incredible people who donate to the hospice can appreciate just what a difference they make. Without your support, people like the lady from my interview would be facing the darkest imaginable times alone. 

This particular story had an immense impact among local people. The video elicited an outpouring of emotion, many exacerbated at the unfairness of life. But there was also palpable relief that this lady and her family were wrapped up in the loving embrace of the hospice. 

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Whatever difficulties they had to face, they had the best care and support possible on tap, for as long as needed. Therefore, it gave me immense personal pride to have produced such a story, however difficult and emotional it might have been. 

Of course, not all stories are as tough to tell and I spend my life telling people that, actually, working at North Devon Hospice is the most uplifting experience (because when I say what I do for a job, they instantly assume it must be very sad). 

The hospice is filled with joy, because making precious memories and making the most of every single day is our mission. 

It has been my privilege to capture and share so many joyous moments over the years, from the time we arranged a full-blown wedding for a patient and his long-time fiancée in less than a week, to the time when we brought a horse to the hospice to visit a patient who’d lived and worked with horses all his life. 

There are also a hundred little joyous moments each day, like when our Hospice to Home team make a hot cup of tea for a wife who’s been rushed of their feet all day looking after their loved husband. 

Of course, every moment of joy is tinged with sadness, because the job of the hospice is to support folk whose life is likely to be measured in months or weeks, rather than years. However, being a Lord of the Rings geek, I am reminded of what Gandalf said to Frodo during dark times: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” 

As a North Devon lad born and bred, I am so glad we have North Devon Hospice, in order to help us make the most of the time we have. 

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