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Inter Faith Week – Veronica’s Story

“We provide a safe space for people to express concerns, worries, emotions, or feelings.”

This year, Inter Faith week runs from the 14th November to 21st November. Inter Faith Week always begins on Remembrance Sunday and runs to the following Sunday, and aims to highlight the good work of local faith, inter faith and faith based groups and orginaisations.

When Veronica, a vet, was diagnosed with a neurological condition 17 years ago, she had to give up practicing and threw herself into raising her three children.

A few years ago, with her children older and more self-sufficient, Veronica found herself looking for something to offer. Due to her condition, there is a lot she can’t do. One day, she read a headline in a local newspaper – ‘Could you sit with a stranger as they die?’ – Veronica realised that she could answer yes to that question.

Veronica says ‘I’m able to just be with someone if that’s what they need.’

A cancer care charity in Christchurch was offering training, and so Veronica decided to do it.

After completing the course, Veronica saw an advert for Chaplaincy volunteers at Weldmar. She applied, was accepted, and has now been a spiritual care volunteer for four years.

Veronica started volunteering at Day Services at the IPU. She offers a listening ear and is there if anyone needs to offload.

Veronica says ‘One of the biggest obstacles people find when facing a life-changing and life-limiting diagnosis is a loss of identity. They might be unable to do the job they were doing, or the illness they have might mean their mobility is reduced. Or they might feel ill and physically not be able to do what they once could. I partly understand that. Being a vet was a bit part of my identity and when I couldn’t do it anymore, I struggled. Because of that, I feel I can empathise with the patients.’

Veronica has a strong personal faith, but for her, spirituality is the uniqueness that we all possess through connections – whether through religion, or nature, or animals, or pets. She says ‘There is something within us that isn’t physical, psychological, or emotional but is love. I talk about love a lot.’

Veronica uses wooden hearts to connect with patients. Veronica says ‘Through the lockdown, I was supporting patients over the phone. I would hold a wooden heart during our first call, and then send it to them. It helped build a physical connection even when we hadn’t met.’

Veronica says ‘The wooden hearts help me embody that I believe that we all loved. I think it’s a lovely thing for people to hear.’

When asked if spirituality is a barrier to some people, Veronica says ‘Religion has a lot of spiritual aspects to it. All big religions talk about spirituality – Christianity, Buddism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, and Judaism. All of those religions at their core have love and connection of spirit. Paganism and even Humanism talks about belief in the human spirit and the ability to achieve goodness.’ Veronica says ‘I know that individuals have sometimes good or bad experiences of religion. I don’t ever want my personal beliefs to be put on anyone else. I tend not to unless asked specifically, share what my belief is. Even if I’m asked directly, I’m sensitive as to how much I share.

What do Weldmar’s patients get from the spiritual volunteers?

Veronica says ‘I think we are there to give a space and presence. We provide a safe space for people to express concerns, worries, emotions, or feelings. We have no agenda, we are there to be and to hold. For me, holding is a really important part of what I do. I can hold difficult emotions, sadness, anger, and pain. Allowing them to express that. I’m not a family member – they don’t need to protect me. I’m not part of their physical or medical care. I’m not fixing anything. Our goals aren’t to move anyone – we’re not a counsellor. We just can be with someone.’

Veronica adds ‘I am incredibly moved by the time I spend with people at Weldmar. I’ve met some amazing people and had some incredibly profound, beautiful, and moving experiences.”

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