Real Lives

The Passion and the Pride of End of Life

I met a palliative care nurse once and never got the chance to ask her why, of all the careers in the world, she would willingly choose to base her days around death and dying because surely that must be the most depressing thing ever, no?

Well, fortunately for me I got to interview Hayley Mcmeekin who works for Bluebird Home Care agency in North London…

Single mum of four, Hayley joined Bluebird as a carer in 2018 and her passion for supporting people in their final weeks and days was spotted immediately by the management team as an unusual and striking level of passion and connection.

I asked Hayley the obvious question…why?

“Well, I cared for both my nan and grandad from when I was 13 or 14. My nan lost her legs and had been ill all my childhood and when she passed away my grandad was diagnosed with cancer. I pretty much carried out his end of life care myself with no training whatsoever because the very small amount of help he received was really not good enough.”

And how did the young 19 year old Hayley do this? Well, a Macmillan nurse came round one day and gave the family a booklet explaining the different stages of end of life and what to expect. The first time she read it, Hayley was horrified but as each day went on, she just read it again and again, until it was completely absorbed…

“That was six years ago. I decided then I wanted to go into care and make sure no one goes through that on my watch. So I had my children and when my youngest was seven months old, I joined Bluebird as a carer with no qualifications but a fixed goal to work in end of life care.”

Hayley cared for a couple for two years – both 99 years old – and when the husband went onto end of life care, she made sure that everything was happening as he wished it to be. He had as good a death as possible, pain-free and playing his favourite music. Hayley did 14 hour shifts because it was vitally important to be there with them having cared for them for so long. And still it can be hard for her to hear a Sinatra or Elvis song…

So how does she cope with the intensity and sadness especially with the added onslaught of the pandemic?

“After my grandad died I didn’t really cope at all – I just got on with everyday life, but being in this job, my manager is my rock. So when someone has passed and maybe it feels too much, I just pick up the phone and talk or just cry. It’s a hard time right now for so many people.”

And as if the job wasn’t hard enough, Hayley goes home each evening to the demands of four children as a single mum! I can’t fathom where she finds the energy for it all, but she’s happy to explain:

“Well, yes it’s very difficult sometimes but it works because I want everyone to have the most perfect way of passing they can possibly have – that’s my vision and what keeps me going. And when I go home and see their little faces I know I’ve made a difference that day.”

Hayley is now in the middle of her Level 4 qualification and says she wouldn’t change her job for the world. And I believe her: hard-felt personal experience can be a great driver in life:

“Every time I’m an intrinsic part of an end of life, and I know they’ve had a good passing, I always look and think I did my grandad proud because I promised him that I would change things and I know I’ve taken that step. I’m only one person and though he might not have had the best, I’m making sure other people do.”

Covid-19 has certainly thrown end of life care into the spotlight for our nation and, with it, astonishing people like Hayley Mcmeekin.

Respect.

Debra Mehta

 

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