Pauline found a love for herself again after volunteering at St Mary’s Hospice

A volunteer at St Mary’s Hospice has said the charity helped giver her life back after she lost her husband. 

Pauline Bettany, like many, hadn’t dealt with St Mary’s Hospice very much until she needed their help and services. Pauline and her husband Stewart came to rely on the hospice, and it was St Mary’s where Stewart spent his last days after battling cancer. 

After seeing the care and compassion that Stewart and herself received when he was ill, she decided the best way to “repay” them was to donate her time. She is now one of the many volunteers at St Mary’s Hospice and is a vital part of the team. 

Pauline first came to learn more about St Mary’s when Stewart and herself attended some of the sessions at St Mary’s Hospice Community Hub that helped care for patients and carers with life-changing illnesses. Four years prior to his final diagnosis, Stewart bravely battled bowel cancer and Parkinson’s. 

When the couple received the news that Stewart had only weeks to live despite three rounds of grueling chemotherapy, he was admitted to the In-Patient Unit at St Mary’s Hospice and cared for around the clock by a team of doctors, nurses and domestic staff. 

During his last few weeks, Pauline and Stewart had the difficult conversation about how they could ever “repay” St Mary’s for the outstanding care they had received.  

She explained: “Time passed all too quickly to that scan that showed no more help was possible, before this Stewart had undergone three grueling rounds of chemotherapy, and that the prognosis was days to three weeks at the most. It was terrifying for both of us. But St Mary’s had a room for us and it even had a view and within two days, Stewart was transferred. 

“During the two weeks as an inpatient at the hospice, one of the many painful things we discussed together was how we might be able to in some way repay the loving care we had in fact both received here.

Money was an obvious thought although fixing on an amount was difficult, by then Stewart had only a vague idea of monetary value and he came up with some very varied figures.
Even at that time I had formulated my idea, “I wasn’t wealthy but there are things that are just as beneficial to the hospice” and I told Stewart that I would donate both money and time. I think he understood and welcomed my thoughts.” 

After Stewart died, Pauline came to rely on the team at St Mary’s to help her come to terms with what had happened and manage the overwhelming grief she was feeling. It was through this that the grieving widow came to know the family and bereavement support team better and after volunteering on reception she decided to donate her time in other ways.  

Through helping with the 1:1 sessions, the Compassionate Cafe, Gardening Club, Complementary Therapies, Grief Yoga and much more, Pauline was able to start smiling again.  

She said: “Almost to my surprise I found that people related to me well. I wonder if they recognised the empathy that came from my own experience of losing Stewart. Friends of mine were fearful to begin with that I would become too involved, that talking to clients would bring back my own emotional upset, my own stuff. But somehow, with the help of the training I had, it was possible to empathise and build an appropriate relationship with clients without reliving my own experiences.  

“In fact, after the second meeting I had with my first client, I had the strangest experience.
I was leaving the hospice and walking home, as I walked across Ford Park, I gradually began to recognise I felt lighter … in my body and spirit.”

It is almost four years since Stewart passed away and Pauline has said the “single most rewarding part of my new life, which I had not asked for or wanted, is to continue with this role.
I give what I can, and I receive so much. I am humbled in the face of the tragedies of others that I can offer something meaningful.”