We would like to pay tribute to Claire Graham, a long standing and dedicated member of our Home Nursing Team, who is retiring from Hospice at Home West Cumbria after 25 years of service. Everyone at Hospice at Home West Cumbria would like to thank Claire for her many years of dedication, care and compassion shown to the patients and families she has cared for.

Claire has shared some happy memories and reflections of her time as a Health Care Assistant:

“I started working for Hospice at Home West Cumbria on the 5th of November 1996. Prior to this, I worked at Keswick Cottage Hospital for around 5 years.

Whilst working at Keswick, I met the President of Hospice at Home West Cumbria Dr Brian Herd. Dr Herd was one of the founding members of Hospice and he told me he thought I would be suitable for a role in their Home Nursing Team and that there was actually a recruitment drive at that time. He encouraged me to apply for a role, but I never imagined that I would be suitable as I always had the perception that Hospice would just be looking for trained Nurses and not Health Care Assistants. However, after some consideration, I decided I would go for it.

I completed an application form and was then invited for an interview – I remember being a nervous wreck! One of the interviewers was also one of the founding members of Hospice, Margaret Dowling. My interview was at the day centre at the Ann Burrow Thomas Health Centre in Workington. Margaret called me later that same day and told me she had picked up on how anxious and nervous I was during the interview, but was pleased to put me out of my misery and congratulate me on being appointed as a Hospice Health Care Assistant, and that’s where my journey began.

I still remember my very first patient who was a lovely lady in Workington. She had 3 children and had been born in Cockermouth. As I was from Cockermouth we instantly built a connection. She was so sweet and her family really welcomed me in and looked after me. I cared for her and sat by her bedside through the nights for many months until she passed away, and some fifteen years later, I cared for her son too.

Before technology advanced and navigation systems were invented it could often be very difficult finding patient’s homes in unfamiliar areas. Before my shift started at 10:30pm at night, I used to drive around West Cumbria looking for street names and have been known to flag over many a taxi driver and police officer along the way for some assistance. These could be quite daunting times, especially in the dark winter months. During those times, not everyone had telephones in their homes and so if you needed to call for a doctor in the middle of the night you would have to go to the phone box. 

One of my most memorable patients was a gentleman called Rob. Caring for Rob sums up the reason for why I love my job. In the beginning, he wasn’t really comfortable with me being there with him as he was still trying to be independent. After some regular visits for respite care, we started to build a bond, which for him was very important. All of a sudden, we just clicked and his fantastic sense of humour is something I will always remember. During one of my visits, his wife had left some cake and when she returned home later that day she asked Rob “Did you enjoy your cake?” he replied “Cake? I didn’t even get a bit – she (pointing at me) ate hers and then said – right you’re not getting of yours and ate mine too” and then he gave me a wink and a smile.

The photo of Rob and I is very special to me and the way he is looking at me says it all. We went from no connection, to Rob then looking forward to my visits and us a having such a special bond for nearly 12 months, and I will never forget that.

Even after all these years, I still feel a little nervous going into a patient’s home for the first visit. I always hope to have a good connection and that the patient will feel comfortable and at ease with me there.

I have lots of precious memories of people I have cared for over the years, and what I have loved most about my role is the one to one time I can spend caring for a patient. I am able to give 100% of my attention and spend quality time with both the patient and their family, which is so important for everyone. I’ve had some heartfelt conversations where people have offloaded and poured out their worries and fears, and I’ve also had some nights which have been filled with recollections of good times, smiles and laughter.

I think now is the right time for me to leave hospice after 25 amazing years. From completing my NVQ3, walking every single Midnight Walk, fundraising, helping with our Lymphoedema service and the Living for Today sessions, I have enjoyed my time immensely.  One of the main reasons I stayed at Hospice for such a long time was because I felt essential, my nature was to build connections with patients and families in the comfort of their home. I didn’t think I would have reached 25 years, neither did my husband Brian who said to me before I started “you will not last on that job, you won’t be able to stay awake at night”. However, 25 years and many nightshifts filled with nibbles to keep me energised, I have achieved a lot and I feel very privileged to have worked for Hospice.

I feel a huge sense of achievement getting to 25 years with Hospice and I also feel very sad. I have met some great people along the way and shared a great experience with Sue Blakeney, my longest working partner, Nora Quayle and Elsie Hyde.  It will leave a huge void in my life, but I’m now 68 and as much as I want to, I just can’t go on forever!

I would like to thank everyone who has allowed me to care for their loved ones, and all the staff at Hospice for their support. I will truly miss you all”.

Claire Graham x

Claire will be a huge miss to our team, and we would like to wish her all the best and hope she has a happy, healthy and wonderful, well deserved retirement.