Helen's story | St Joseph's Hospice

Helen's story

Every one of our patients has a story to tell. At St Joseph’s we don’t take anything or anyone for granted. We find out about our patients, what they like and what they don’t like so that when they come to stay here, whether that is for a few weeks respite or at the end of their life, we ensure they are treated as an individual and get the best possible care and support.

This is Helen’s story.

Helen spent the first years of her life in Liverpool with her mum and dad, but at the age of three during the war, she was evacuated to the Isle of Man along with her twin sister Mary, her two brothers and two other sisters. She spent a short time in the Dr Barnardo Children’s Home until one day a lady came and chose her, “I’ll take the skinny one she said”!

When they got home Helen’s new foster mother stood her in front of the mirror and said “Who’s that, as she hadn’t even asked what her name was. Helen looked at her reflection in the mirror and thought it was her twin sister Mary so she said, “Mary” and so that was what her foster mother called her.

Despite the rather strange start to their relationship, she had a happy childhood with her foster parents and a few years later she went to the local school and didn’t have much memory of her early years.

What she didn’t realise that a girl in the other class was actually her twin sister, and her older sister was in another class. She didn’t have a clue who they were and wasn’t told that she had sisters and brothers until her foster mother died. At that point she found out that her real name was Helen and that’s what she chose to be called from then on.

At that point her brother from Liverpool came and asked her if she wanted to go back home and at the age of 17 she went back to live with her father in Liverpool.
But her upbringing had been so different to her birth family that they clashed so she went and became a Wren in the Royal Navy.

She didn’t leave port, she was stationed in Portsmouth in the catering team but she wanted to see the world so three years later she joined the Merchant Navy, working for Cunard.

Helen loved her life at sea, she went round the world 15 or so times and met all the stars of the day, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Rod Stewart and the Queen (she’s tiny, apparently)!

She worked her way up from being a stewardess to working in 1st class and spent 25 happy years at sea.

Helen never married, she became so independent that it wasn’t really an option but she loved sports, particularly hockey and swimming, she was a rifle shooting champion in the Navy and enjoyed climbing.

Now at the age of 79, Helen has heart failure and short term memory loss. Having been referred to St Joseph’s a number of years ago as an in-patient, she now comes to respite a couple of times a year, for rest and recuperation and to ensure that she is getting the nutrition she needs and the right support. She’s still very active but every now and then due to her heart condition she needs to calm down a bit and recharge her batteries.

She loves coming to St Joseph’s, she has lots of friends where she lives but everyone is so busy that she doesn’t see them that often. At St Joseph’s there are people around all the time, she makes new friends and joins in all the activities that are on offer.

Helen will soon be matched with a Compassionate Neighbour, a trained volunteer who will visit her once a week when she goes home.

Helen said, “When I come to St Joseph’s for respite the first thing I say is ‘put me down for all the activities’. I’ve done some dancing, art and bingo, had reiki, listened to singers who come in to entertain us, it’s great. The staff here can’t do enough for you, they’re so nice and I feel so at home. This time I’ve made a new friend, Lillian, we’ve shared a room and had such a lovely time together, it will be a shame to have to go home.”

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