Why I'll be supporting the Lights To Remember campaign this year
SIX years ago I had tea with the people who run Hampstead Hospice and agreed that the Ham&High would help them raise funds annually through a Lights To Remember campaign. They were pleased to show me around the facilities, which in truth at that time wer
SIX years ago I had tea with the people who run Hampstead Hospice and agreed that the Ham&High would help them raise funds annually through a Lights To Remember campaign.
They were pleased to show me around the facilities, which in truth at that time were a little down at heel. All that has changed with a magnificent refurbishment which left comedian Jon Culsham, one of its most enthusiastic supporters, to remark at this week's official opening: ''There's an overwhelming sense of calm, of being looked after here - nothing like a grey hospital feel.''
On that visit I also met many of the staff who have dedicated their careers to working in this place of hope, set so serenely amid the tree-lined avenues of Belsize Park.
In the middle of a working day, visiting the hospice was a chastening experience, a reminder of our mortality and a confirmation that ''no man or woman knows the hour when sorrow will come''.
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Yet never in my worst imaginings did I ever suspect that as midnight passed on a balmy summer evening in 2009, I would be holding my own wife's hand as she passed away in that very place.
Her stay had been shockingly short. On Friday evening we were making plans for the weekend. But on Saturday instead of being driven to Windsor to have lunch by the Thames, Sue was in an ambulance on her way to the hospice. On Sunday afternoon she passed into unconsciousness and in the first fleeting minutes of that fateful Monday morning, she slipped away forever.
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Weeks earlier, she had been in their care for the best part of a fortnight. Within the limits of what was possible, the hospice put her right. The next few weeks were among the happiest we had known, precious time won back for us by the dedication, skill, sense of purpose and compassion of the hospice staff.
The building has indeed undergone a fantastic refurbishment, but when I think about the hospice, I think as much about the ministering angels who work there as I do about the facilities.
That's why I'll be supporting Lights To Remember this year, not just as a newspaper editor, as in the past, but as someone who has seen, up close and personal, the kind of magic that can be weaved there - even amid the bleakest of times.
To make a donation, fill in the coupon in this week's Ham&High or alternatively, call 020 7853 3436 or email the community fundraising officer, Donna Luff (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Geoff Martin, Editor, Ham&High Series