For everyone staying overnight at the venue we woke to the sound of rain on our windows. It was a strange and unfamiliar sound to many of us, particularly our visitors from Broken Hill in Far Western NSW.
Our wonderful MC Bernadette Orange welcomed everyone to the conference, and Uncle Greg provided his characteristically entertaining Welcome to Country. Linda Hansen, the EO of PCNSW introduced the newly recruited Volunteer Support Services Manager, Colin Dent, providing a great opportunity for everyone to get to know the new “go‑to person”.
Melissa Cumming began the day with a beautiful, and touching plenary presentation, reminding us of the privilege and responsibility we have when people who are dying invite us into their sacred space. It was a poignant start to the day in which to explore therapeutic relationships in palliative care.
Lyn Worsley spoke about vicarious trauma reminding us all that in order for us to care for others we have to care for ourselves and recognise the signs when we are not able to provide compassionate care. This is something we often either take for granted or ignore so it was valuable to be reminded of this.
Julie Gissing and Robyn Swanson related their experience in the setup and daily coordination of the Sacred Heart Biography Service. This valuable service allows volunteers to attend a patient’s home and record conversations about the patient’s life which is then later transcribed by the volunteer. As Julie and Robyn explained, the end product – a book about the life of the patient that can be read by the patient’s family, is not the main benefit. It is in the process of the sessions with the volunteer – the talking and reflecting, remembering and recording and having someone.
In the evening we were treated to a special screening of the beautiful Australian documentary film called Love in our Own Time, with a guest visit from the director Dr Tom Murray who was generous enough to answer questions and provide an insight into what it was like making this film. The film itself is a documentary on the big things in life: birth, love, and death. Holding a 21st century mirror to who we are, the film follows ordinary Australians, bearing witness to lives beginning and ending, and capturing moments, both simple and sublime, that compose the lives we lead.
The event brought palliative care volunteers and volunteer managers from all over NSW, and as far as Queensland and Victoria who is a present listener – that is where the main benefits of the program lie for the patient and their family. The program has grown in success and the gentle and wise Julie and Robyn help guide the work and care for the amazing volunteers who provide this service. An exciting and innovative talk.
The afternoon panel session comprised a mix of volunteers (adult, rural and paediatric), a clinician and a Volunteer Manager. Guided by the panel convenor Kate Englebrecht, the conversation centred around what makes a therapeutic relationship? It was interesting to see the common themes of trust and listening emerge as the top two in all the experiences of the panel members. Authenticity, being non-judgemental and having a family centred approach were among other things mentioned as essential in establishing a relationship. The ability of the volunteers and clinician to establish a rapport with their patient/clients and their family was evident when they spoke – all were great communicators. Discussion amongst the audience was encouraged and created a buzz of shared stories as these themes were explored.
We also had the opportunity to listen to presentations from five volunteers supporting adults and children within palliative care who so eloquently shared their experience of volunteering. Their honesty and at times vulnerability demonstrated that as Volunteers working within sacred spaces we need to be Human beings not Human ‘doings’. That the act of being present with a child, adult or family member in their journey towards end of life is so important to create
and hold sacred spaces.
Jacinthe Brosseau (pictured above) from the Delta Therapy Dogs brought along two gorgeous therapy dogs and their owners. As the closing Plenary of the two days it succeeded in highlighting how therapeutic care can take many forms and have the greatest impact.