EVERY Thursday morning, 74 year old Helen van Bueren joins others online at the Treetops Virtual Wellbeing Café, a weekly catch up which has provided her with a vital lifeline during the pandemic.
In 2014, Helen, from Long Eaton became seriously ill and was told she had leukaemia and lupus. Two months after her shock diagnosis, Helen’s husband Colin died unexpectedly and her best friend, Alex, died not longer after that.
“It was such a shock and I’ve struggled since then. Colin and I had been married nineteen years. I tried bereavement counselling at that time but realised it was too soon. I was able to get to know Treetops Hospice more though.”
Helen was familiar with Treetops having sung there on several occasions with a choir and raising funds for the hospice through a local art exhibition. She didn’t ever expect to need them as a patient.
“It’s very odd to now be accessing Treetops services. I’m a very independent person and it’s strange to have someone concerned with my wellbeing. It’s an about-face for me.”
When the Coronavirus pandemic struck, Helen was advised to avoid other people due to her health conditions. Her normal classes teaching Chi Gong, a form of Tai Chi, stopped immediately, along with art and other groups she regularly attended.
“I used to have something to do every day of the week and cram a lot in. The pandemic stripped me of everything.
“I like my own company but since the lockdown, I’ve hardly seen anyone for over a year. My conversations were limited to a checkout girl once a fortnight.”
In response to the pandemic, Treetops quickly adapted its services to continue supporting shielding patients. Many services were moved online, including the weekly drop-in café for those with life-limiting conditions and those who’ve been bereaved.
“The Café has been a ray of sunshine for me. You can forget about all your troubles and afterwards I feel so much better. It gives me contact with others that I wouldn’t have otherwise and I feel very lucky.
“For me, it’s the conversations and bringing together like-minded people that’s so very important. It’s helped my wellbeing. The practical things I can do myself, but this past year I’ve really, really missed people.
“The atmosphere is so kind and welcoming. Everyone is very open, friendly and caring. Nothing is too much trouble. You don’t have to explain about your condition and health. It’s such a nice feeling.
“It’s a safe space when there’s not too many safe spaces in the world right now. You feel good when you come away.”
Helen, who recently suffered two strokes, is very matter of fact about the future, she concluded:
“Whatever is going to happen will happen and I’m going to enjoy what time I have left.
“The majority of people don’t want to talk about end of life care. They brush it under the carpet, when we actually need people to be more open and honest.
“If it wasn’t so unusual for people to talk about dying, and simply accepted it as a natural process, then going wouldn’t be so hard. The word ‘death’ makes people immediately shut off. The shutters come down and that’s it.
“I am a very determined lady and that’s how I will stay till the end. As restrictions lift, I’m going to drink coffee in coffee bars and eat more cake. I’m hoping to visit Treetops and see it vibrant and giving hope to other people who are in my position.
“More people should know about Treetops and their care. There’s nothing like this anywhere else. It’s a very special organisation.”
The Virtual Café is one of several Wellbeing Services available at Treetops. Further information is available online at: www.treetopshospice.org.uk, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling: 0115 949 1264.
As restrictions are lifted, Treetops also hopes to re-open its Wellbeing Café on-site in Risley, on an appointment-only basis.
Treetops provides emotional support and nursing care for adults with life-limiting conditions such as cancer, neurological conditions and heart and respiratory conditions. All services are provided free of charge.