Marie Curie Hampstead hospice chaplain: ‘All of us have spiritual needs’

The Revd Preb Tony Kyriakides-Yeldham Chaplain at Marie Curie Hampstead Hospice

The Revd Preb Tony Kyriakides-Yeldham Chaplain at Marie Curie Hampstead Hospice - Credit: Nigel Sutton

As the Marie Curie Hampstead hospice prepares for its annual Lights to Remember service, Anna Behrmann speaks to chaplain Tony Kyriakides about his role

There is much life and hope in the Marie Curie Hampstead hospice and an opportunity to ask existential questions, explains chaplain Revd Preb Tony Kyriakides.

He may have a Church of England background, but he is there for those of all faiths and none.

There are around 34 resident patients at the hospice, some of whom might be atheist, others who are Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or Hindu.

While some are there for end of life care, other people also go in and out during their illness for respite, rehabilitation or to manage their symptoms.

A spiritual or existential conversation can start with a simple, “how are you?”

“All of us have spiritual needs and that can be captured in terms of those bigger questions in life.

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“When someone gets a knock in life, not necessarily facing death, but being mugged in the street, or an important relationship breaks up, there are questions like, ‘why me, why now? What have I done to deserve this, am I being punished, am I being tested?’

“And in a place like this, there are questions about how pain figures, and about death… it’s those bigger questions, those existential questions that are really on offer to people,” he said.

Revd Preb Kyriakides says that one of the most challenging aspects of his job is being brushed off or “stereotyped” by people who just see him as a religious figure.

He arranges religious rites, for which he can draw on a network from the Camden Neighbourhood Clergy and Community Leaders Inter-Faith Forum, but he is also there for anyone who wants to talk.

He recalls one woman, in her 80s, who lost her baby long ago.

“What she wanted to talk about was the stillbirth of her only child.

“She never knew where her child was buried because her husband was an undertaker... and as an undertaker all those years ago it was the custom to place a baby or child that had died in the coffin of a woman who had died during pregnancy. So her baby could have been placed with a total stranger and buried goodness knows where,” he said.

“We’re talking again about a long time ago, many years ago. It would never happen today but for her the question was what happened to her baby. She just wanted to talk about her feelings of loss, the loss of motherhood, the loss of that baby.”

In the community of the hospice, which he says has its own hope and vibrancy, there are many opportunities for surprising and touching services.

He arranged a funeral officiated by a Greek Orthodox priest and an Imam for a Muslim man who became Greek Orthodox when he married.

He also recalls a service of commitment for a couple in their early 20s at a beautiful venue with all their friends gathered.

The couple spoke about their hopes and dreams, even though the young woman was terminally ill.

“It’s about living the life you’ve got rather than focusing on the death which will come to all of us,” Revd Preb Kyriakides said.

Marie Curie will hold the annual Lights to Remember service on Saturday December 3 at Hampstead Parish Church for people to remember loved ones. Contact: