Cathy cares for dying
TERMINAL illness can be a confronting and difficult time for patients and their loved ones.
There is no hospice in South Gippsland where people can go to be cared for in their final months, weeks and days, but there is a service that offers succour and comfort to those who want it.
South Gippsland Palliative Care Service is part of a region-wide consortium which includes 50 volunteers who provide support both before and after a loved one has died.
One of those volunteers is Cathy Matthews of Leongatha.
She has faced vicissitudes and challenges on her own life journey and, after retiring from her role as a social worker and counsellor, a friend suggested she volunteer with the palliative care team.
Feeling her experiences had given her a deeper understanding of and empathy with her fellow human beings, Cathy decided to give it a try. She now regards her palliative care volunteering as an immense privilege.
“It’s about having a heart.”
While last week was Volunteers Week, this is Palliative Care Week.
She stressed she is part of the team of professionals who provide care to the terminally ill and her role can vary.
Sometimes she just sits quietly with the patient or reads to them. She might do a light hand massage or listen as the patient tells their story; with privacy and confidentiality to the fore.
“I become an active listener and it’s all very respectful and sensitive.”
Cathy has found one of the most significant and soothing comforts she can bring is music. She will play tapes of the music the patient likes or play her special therapeutic harp.
Through her volunteering, she learned about Peter Roberts and the reverie harp he designed for use in music therapy with frail and dying people.
Cathy commissioned Peter to make her one and she plays it when visiting people in their homes or hospitals.
“The harp is full of resonance and vibrations and when played, it relaxes people and helps them to a place of quiet and pleasant contemplation,” she said.
“The harp also helps build ambience, particularly if the person is in a hospital ward. The nursing staff appreciate the music and its calming influence.”
It can help soothe families too.
The harp doesn’t produce traditional tunes, just gentle sounds.
“It’s just beautiful and out of this world,” Cathy said, “and even if they are not responsive, patients can actually feel the resonance and vibration.”
She said volunteering has given her the opportunity to continue learning in both a formal and informal sense. Before being matched with a person in palliative care, volunteers must complete a free training course covering a number of topics including diversity, spirituality, communication skills, responding to loss and grief, death and dying and an overview of illnesses and their symptoms.
An important part of that training is self care and Cathy is well versed in that subject, having run a number of workshops in her professional life for colleagues and those in the health field. Members of the palliative care team support each other as necessary.
Cathy said common sense and being in the moment are important tools in her volunteering.
“I don’t have to fix anything – just be there.”
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