She arranges everything, from finding long lost families to organising organ donation
She’s only 26 but Claire Wretham is employed by a Welsh hospice to help people face death.
She is the youngest person in any of Marie Curie’s nine hospices nationwide in the role.
Watching her own grandmother have “a beautiful death” inspired her to help others do the same.
“We all deserve a good death that celebrates life. I am helping people feel at peace,” she said.
As full time spiritual care co-ordinator at Marie Curie Hospice, Cardiff and the Vale , Claire answers any questions patients and their families have about life’s greatest mystery.
“My grandmother died at home, a really beautiful death with all her family around her. We were able to facilitate for her the perfect death.
In an increasingly secular and diverse society her role at Marie Curie has replaced the traditional one of chaplain, although Claire still uses that term when first meeting patients.
“I introduce myself as chaplain because it really is a modern interpretation of that,” she explained.
“My age is mostly irrelevant. People often comment on the fact I am young but I don’t think it hinders my role.
“People my age group see the world differently and approach things in a different way.
“Part of my role is asking people “what makes you you, how would you describe yourself and how do you find peace?
“As younger people we often have lots of spaces and experiences to express ourselves, but some older people don’t feel the same freedom to express themselves, so I ask “who are you, what makes you you and what makes you comfortable and at peace?.”
A practising Christian, Claire was appointed to the job two years ago and is an “allied health professional”, not a medic, although she knows and can explain what may happen during dying and immediately after.
Her role as spiritual adviser was created in response to research that Marie Curie did in 2015 investigating how to improve access to palliative care for people with dementia, learning disabilities and people with different or no religious beliefs.
Sarah Lloyd-Davies, hospice manager at Marie Curie Hospice, Cardiff and the Vale, explained: Hospice care and chaplaincy services have long been rooted in the Christian tradition, as both developed at a time when Christianity was the majority religion in the UK.
“As the country has grown more diverse there has also been a trend in growing numbers of people identifying as nonreligious.
“The hiring of a spiritual care coordinator to replace the traditional chaplain role at the Marie Curie Hospice Cardiff and Vale reflects the feedback from our local community, which recognises that one person and one approach cannot meet everyone’s spiritual needs.
“In order to make sure our services are truly inclusive and person-centred, we need to focus on connecting with belief-based communities and exploring new ways of providing spiritual care so we can ensure people feel supported in the best way for them at the end of their life.
Whatever background people come from death and dying are still taboo subjects which Claire must help them face.
“A lot of my job is myth busting and explaining to people how it works at the hospice and what they can expect as they come to the end of their life,” the 26 year-old said.
“Questions I would normally ask are whether they have any spiritual or religious needs and whether they have a faith or anything that’s a source of comfort.
“If they are religious I will discuss that with them – for instance if they are Catholic and want the last rites I liaise with their priest, if they are Muslim and want their bed facing Mecca and halal meals my job is to arrange that and liaise with nursing staff about it.”
There is “no formula or prescription” for talking about death so Claire begins with a few questions.
“It’s about asking questions to get people to explore death or go away and think about it.
“The sort of questions I’ll ask are things like – have you got any unfinished business or anything you want to tie up? That can be relationships, writing a will, funeral planning, making amends with estranged family members , and how we can help with that, if we can.”
When patients tell her they are scared of dying she tries to remove some of the mystery around it to reassure.
“If someone is scared of dying a big part of it, from my point of view, is explaining what will happen when they die.
“There are lots of misconceptions about pain relief. They want to know what it will feel like. I explain that they will probably just fall asleep more.
“I explore with them what they think that will be like. There is nothing you can say really, ultimately it’s something people form their own ideas about.
“I may also ask people what they want their legacy to be. Some people think there is nothing after you are dead so I’d ask them how they want to be remembered.”
But she doesn’t push it if people don’t want to talk.
“We live in a culture where it’s normal to talk about things but the idea of a chaplaincy and spiritual support is so alien to some people that they say no, they don’t want to talk to me.”
As she doesn’t have all the answers Claire tries to keep things practical when explaining what happens after death in a hospice.
“I know what a dead body looks like, where you go after death and what the crematorium looks like.
“My main technique is to remove any confusion. I do ask people if they are frightened and how I can help them not feel afraid.
“Most of the time people are worried about “what’s happening next and what about the pain?”
“I think death is so difficult to talk about because we don’t see death often. The majority of deaths happen in hospital. People don’t know what death looks like.
“For us in a hospice a huge part of our role is pulling the curtain on that. Lots of people come in asking really big questions and having misconceptions.”
These include controversy and suspicion surrounding syringe drives to administer pain relief and the mistaken beliefs about how they are used.
“People are horrified by the syringe driver. It’s in a locked box and nurses replenish pain killers. It is controlled pain relief. Some people think it is a death sentence, but it’s not. Sometimes people have a syringe driver for pain relief and then have it removed.”
“On the other hand some people say “can I have the drugs now?”. That’s not legal and not what hospices are about.”
“When we talk to people here about donation it’s usually only corneas because they can’t donate anything else. Some people say “you can take anything but not my eyes, but I have watched eyeball removal and it is really amazing because one cornea can be used to help eight people.”
It is Claire’s job to arrange any donations. She recalled one case when she arranged for a motorbike to collect the brain of a patient with motor neurone disease who had requested it be donated to medical science – something that had to be arranged within 72 hours.
“I spent all day organising brain removal and that afternoon someone came down from London on a motorbike and took it back for donation to medical science.”
Although her job does involve these practical matters it is also a matter of listening to people at what can be the hardest time of their lives.
“My job is varied Once a man came in and said his father had died here 28 years ago. He said he had never visited Wales and now lives in Canada but had flown into Cardiff to see where his father died.
“I showed him around the hospice and talked to him about his grief and about Penarth. He was very tearful, he had flown all the way from Canada to see where his dad died, but he was able to resolve his grief.”
Surrounded by grief and death on a daily basis Claire says it is not morbid but a privilege to help people.
“Death happens to everyone. It’s coming to all of us. We should look to normalise it.”
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!