Fulfilled living in later life

Wednesday 28th February 2024

Meet a Hummingbird... Susan

Susan took on the role of Hummingbird in February 2023. As part of our The Way We Care approach, she provides practical, emotional and spiritual support to our family members at Shottermill House in Haslemere

As a family, we all moved to Fernhurst in West Sussex in 2017. My daughter and her husband had been living in London but didn’t want to bring up their boys there. We’re very close as a family, and so my husband and I decided to move from our home in Kent too, together with my mum, Sheila, and my aunty.

My mum is living with dementia. As the condition progressed, it became clear that I couldn’t keep caring for her myself. She wanted to come to a Christian home and that’s when we found Shottermill House. Mum moved in about six years ago.

I started volunteering at Shottermill House during Covid. With all the visiting restrictions, this was a lovely way I could continue to see Mum, as well as get to know all the other members of the home.

One day I was asked if I’d consider taking on the role of Hummingbird. I love being with people and so I decided to give it a go.

Pilgrims Friend Shottermill Hummingbird Susan1

As a Hummingbird, I get alongside family members, particularly those living with dementia. I’ll hold someone’s hand when they are sad. Sometimes it’s not about talking, it’s about being there and giving them a stroke and saying, “It’s going to be okay”.

I’ve been able to draw on my own experience of caring for Mum. I know that conversations can be very weird when you sit with someone with dementia. You learn to just go with the flow. Mum used to tell me things like she was going to Australia and ask if I wanted to come. When she was first diagnosed, it was devastating, but now as a family we’ve moved to a place of acceptance. Mum is very content. She doesn’t worry about anything.

I’ve also learnt a lot through The Way We Care training. At its heart, it’s about getting to know each person. If someone is distressed, I might suggest that we have a cup of tea. If you can get the conversation onto something you know they might like to talk about, you can help them to move on.

Pilgrims Friend Shottermill House Susan Hummingbird

There is one gentleman living with us called Farrell. He can’t verbally communicate anymore but if you put on some Scottish music or show him a favourite gardening book, his eyes will light up.

For most of my working life, I was a hairdresser. I know how important it can be for people to look their best. I’ll do things like paint someone’s nails, give them a dab of hand cream or brush their hair. It can make a big difference to how a person feels.

I’m also a very practical person. There’s a lady here called Christine. She didn’t have a good place to put her papers and they were getting jumbled. I got her pink plastic box and spent some time sorting through them with her. She’s very happy now.

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Previous experience of volunteering has also helped prepare me for this role. My father sadly died in a hospice about 25 years ago. The hospice really supported us as a family and after my father passed away I started volunteering there as a hairdresser.

Being around those who were dying was hard and eventually I had to stop.
However, that experience helped shape me. Now I’m older and have had more life experiences, things don’t scare me as much. Here, I can sit with family members who are at end of life. I’m more able to cope with it now, although it’s still always sad.

There’s a wonderful, caring atmosphere across the whole home.
From the kitchen staff, to the housekeepers to carers and management, everyone is committed to putting the family members first. It’s one big happy family.

I get a good feeling when I come here.
I come away thinking, “I’ve really enjoyed today.” I love making a difference. Everyone here is so lovely – I love them all. It’s a privilege to be here.

In her spare time, Susan likes to:
• Take part in a weekly keep fit class and a weekly Pilates session
• Look after her two grandsons when her daughter/ son-in-law are busy working
• Go on walks in the countryside, often with her daughter’s two dogs

@pilgrimsfriendsociety Susan is a Hummingbird, supporting people with dementia in our care homes. In this special role, she makes short connections with our family members - holding a hand, sharing a few words and a smile - so everyone knows that they matter. #dementiauk #dementiatiktok #carersoftiktok #dementiaawareness #carersoftiktok #dignityincare ♬ Beautiful Memories - Lux-Inspira

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