Rev. Nicky, offers practical and spiritual support to families in need. In this feature, Rev. Nicky tells us how she is there for families when they are going through some of the most difficult times of their lives.
In my role as Chaplain within the Family Support Team at Naomi House & Jacksplace, I am here to support our children, young adults, family members and staff of all faiths and no faith. I very gently come alongside people, and if they want to explore anything to do with faith or spirituality more generally, then I am really happy to support them in their exploration.
My work is varied and as well as offering spiritual support, for example spending time with a young adult or the family of a child who has a life limiting condition, or is coming to the end of their life, it can also be very practical by helping a family plan their child’s funeral.
Lloyd was a regular visitor to Jacksplace, our hospice for young adults, who sadly died at the age of 21. His parents spoke about the support I was able to give Lloyd as he was coming to the end of his life.
"When Nicky first started working with Lloyd, we could tell how much happier he was after having his sessions. Lloyd had been through so much anxiety and stress due to Covid and the lockdowns, without the added fear he had of losing his life to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
"Lloyd found so much peace after finding his religious belief and Nicky was able to support him with reading and understanding the Bible. Lloyd was able to share information with Nicky which he didn’t feel he could share with his family. Nicky returned most weeks and was with Lloyd the night before he died, not that we knew that at the time.
"Nicky also helped us so much with Lloyd’s funeral, helping us to make some very difficult decisions about readings and hymns. She played a major role during the funeral at the church, helping us to give Lloyd the best send-off we could.
There is no way we would have got through one of the hardest times of our life without the support of Nicky and the Jacksplace staff.
My broad remit is spirituality. Spirituality is difficult to define, but involves a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves. Our spirituality might give us a sense of purpose and meaning. It can be that sense of awe and wonder of nature, or the love and deep connection which is at the heart of healthy human relationships. Other words I’d connect with spirituality are: peace, comfort, hope and love. I believe that this spiritual side of life is something which touches all of us.
As part of their spirituality, some people have a particular faith as well, so if someone would like to explore areas of Christian faith, then I can have conversations with them. I am also building relationships with other faith leaders, to learn how best we can support families of other faiths. For instance, if we have a Muslim family staying and they don’t have their own local faith support, then I have contact with local Imams who are happy to come into the hospice to visit them. I have also developed links with both the Southampton and Winchester hospital chaplaincy teams to share our knowledge around the support available to families.
At the hospices, we work together to provide support that meets every individual’s needs. As the Chaplain, I might guide a family through funeral planning and then conduct their child’s funeral, but the ongoing care and support in other areas would be shared within the whole Family Support Team.
On a number of occasions, parents have asked me to conduct an emergency baptism for their child staying with us for end of life care. At such an awful time, the baptism has provided a little comfort, strength and hope to the family.
When a child or young adult sadly dies, families may wish for them to lie in our Butterfly or Ocean bereavement suites. It can give families more time with their child rather than the separation after death being very sudden, which can happen in a hospital situation. Depending on their faith, the bereavement suites might not be suitable for all families.
However, the suites give families a choice at a time when they may feel that all their choices have been taken away from them.
While their child is staying in the bereavement suite, families are given their own rooms, and are looked after at the hospices. They are offered meals, cooked by our amazing chefs, they can access support from our Family Support Team, they can go out for walks and be on their own. They can, perhaps, feel a bit sheltered from the outside world for a few days before they have to go home and face life without their child.
Inside the bereavement suites, we have put together ‘spiritual care’ baskets. The baskets contain items which families might find helpful and can take away with them. Members of the local community have created knitted hearts and stones painted with symbols such as rainbows, doves, butterflies, hearts and stars. We also include forget-me-not seeds, pressed forget-me-not flowers, poems and prayers. We know these simple items can provide some comfort at such a traumatic time.
Each year our Family Support Team hosts a Summer Remembering Day, to which all bereaved parents and siblings are invited. Younger siblings are supported by our play therapist and play team, whilst I lead a service which includes symbolism, poetry, readings, reflections and music. We invite families to bring a photograph of their child to place on the table and we have candles for everyone to light. This is followed by an opportunity to share memories, poems or anything special to them. Some families come prepared and for others it is more spontaneous, and they might feel compelled to stand up and share.
The Remembering Service is a very moving occasion and seeing parents supporting each other and reaching out in love towards each other, is very powerful.
The service is followed by a time for our bereaved families to talk with others, over coffee and cake. In some sense, the day provides a beautiful space for our families to connect and share with each other, but it can also be a very painful and difficult time.
The families have some shared experiences, but equally they each carry very different and unique experiences too. Some parents have been on their journey for years, with an early diagnosis of a life limiting condition and for others it is much more sudden – perhaps a cancer diagnosis. These are two very different scenarios but are both equally distressing. Our families share a unique type of bereavement, and the Remembering Days provide an opportunity for mutual support.
I find it a huge privilege to come alongside young people and/or their families when they are journeying through such uncertain and sometimes devastating points of their lives, and it’s not uncommon for questions around spirituality and faith to come up. Some of the questions asked simply have no answers, but offering the opportunity to explore thoughts and questions around the bigger and complicated questions of life is an important part of what we offer as the Family Support Team.