HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOE!
Joe Attridge turned 60 on July 12 and he celebrated the landmark birthday with cake and crisps with patients at the Come and Connect Group at our North Finchley in-patient unit.
It’s not quite the extravagant party or holiday of a lifetime that some might feel marks such a birthday, but it’s perfect for Joe, who’s wife of over 20-years, Anna, died at the Hospice in 2006 from pancreatic cancer. Since then he’s spent three days a week here as a volunteer.
“It’s ironic really. When Anna was referred here, we had no idea what services a hospice offered. We pulled up in the car outside but drove straight off, thinking it wasn’t really for us. At the end of the road we stopped and decided we should give it a try. As soon as we walked in, we fell in love with the place. Everyone was so nice and Anna felt a sense of calm and peace, which made me calm too. The doctors and nurses were so caring. We couldn’t believe it was free! It felt more like a 5 star hotel. I have special memories of our time together here.”
The Personal Touch
That personal experience is no doubt why Bolton-born Joe is so good with patients and their families. “I never appreciated life until I came here and I want to help and support people on the same journey I was on.”
Joe spends Wednesdays as the Assistant Chaplain, on Thursdays he’s with the Come & Connect Group and Saturdays are spent on the in-patient ward.
“Every day and every patient is different. But generally patients want to do every day things. I often read to them, as I did for Anna, or we go for a walk. Sometimes they just want to hold a hand. At the moment we have someone doing Thai Chi in the park so when the weather is good we’ll head there on a Thursday. Patients love that.”
He’s One In A Million!
If you’re thinking Joe deserves some sort of medal for his dedication you’re not wrong. In 2014 he was voted International Volunteer of the Year at the International Journal of Palliative Nursing Awards. Joe and Anna’s story was used to highlight the incredible work of hospices and led to national charity Help the Hospices (Now Hospice UK) being chosen as Morrisons charity of the year in 2010/11 and a £1.5 million donation, of which NLH received a share.
He’s an avid runner, clocking up 22 marathons and 92 half marathons, many of which he’s run on behalf of North London Hospice and raised a very impressive £28,000 towards patient care. But it was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro that was his biggest challenge. “I’m scared of heights so was very apprehensive about signing up for the climb. I told the patients about it and when I came in the following week they’d made me a lovely scrapbook and raised over £700! So I had no choice. I had to sign up after that!”
After 12 years as a volunteer at NLH Joe has many happy memories. “Simon Cooper’s wedding – which was organised by the Hospice in just 24 hours – was of course a highlight and a joyful occasion and Light up a Life is the most moving ceremony to attend. The longer I’m here, the more families I get to know. I recall feeding one father on the ward and offering to shake the hands of his three sons. They turned round and said ‘That’s an insult. We want a hug! It’s moments like that when you realise you’ve stepped into a family’s life and journey for a time. It’s a real privilege.”
Joe took retirement from the oil industry at 50 but has been busier than ever for the last 10 years. Now he’s got his free bus pass are there signs he might be ready to hang up his halo?
“Not really. I love it here. The more I’m here the more I appreciate life. I also volunteer two-days a week at the Enfield Town Community Church. I’ve got lots of nieces and nephews that keep me busy and I go back to Bolton every six weeks to visit my parents. It’s a couple of years since my last challenge in the Brecon Beacons so It’s about time for another!”