In this, the last and in my opinion the most moving episode of the seminal series about the Salvation Army, viewer favourite Paul O’Grady is nearing the end of his bespoke training course with them.
This week as one of his final challenges, he visits a hospice for the terminally ill.
Paul is entirely honest about his opinions on mortality, he is not scared of dying, but is worried more about the way that he might die. It is that loss independence, having to be reliant on others. He says wryly that when he had his heart attack, Paul had to all intents and purposes died in the ambulance for three minutes, when asked, he says he saw no white light and awoke to a paramedic forcing dissolvable aspirin into him.
St Christopher's is one of two hundred Hospices in the UK that provide palliative care nursing and family support. Funded by Public Donation, the hospice treats about eight hundred people a year who are facing the end of their lives.
Jo accompanies Paul. It is a huge privilege to be allowed to spend time with people and their Families at the end of life. They meet with Revd Andrew Goodhead He says the main skill is to allow folk to Talk and listen how people are really feeling. The average stay for most patients is eleven days on average.
Edward is suffering the final effects of asbestosis, 35 years in the building trade has left him with a lung full of fluid. A previously fit and strong man he has be brought down fast by the disease. He is a sweet man with a sense of humour that Paul Inevitably taps into, they joke of the wonderfully lifting power of a pain blocker, Edward says he almost drifted out of the window much to the amusement of Paul and Edwards family.
He meets Michael O’Grady, his namesake on the wards and discuss their respective family origins in Cork and Galway. He is suffering from Cancer of the Bowel that has metastasised to the liver and kidneys. Having just celebrated his 70th Birthday and about to celebrate his Forty Ninth Wedding Anniversary. Paul tells the family to make sure the party Rocks the building. Visibly affected by Michaels plight he wishes them all well, Th family ask Paul to pose for a photo as they have been telling the grandkids for ages that they are long lost brothers!! Such a brave and noble man,Michael has asked that when the time comes that in lieu of floral tributes that all memorial gifts go to the hospice.
Paul meets with Carers who take the world on their shoulders. For Six years Kaye has been looking after husband Len, who has been suffering from a heart problem due to medical accident whilst away on Holiday in Cyprus. Paul tells her to try to get some respite once in a while, he knows the burdens Carers take upon themselves.
Carers and patients both attend an art class , Carers find it hard sometimes to approach the subject of Death, but in the class, as Paul so rightly observes, they are all facing a common enemy. There is a real empathy from Paul to the plight of Len whose problems began when he had a stent fitted. An accident caused a tear in the artery and a bypass was necessary , given Seventy two hours to live , he made it but the damage was irreparable. Paul can sympathise, he has six stents fitted. He had a Heart attack in bed and was nervous to “bother “anyone. When telling the group about his latest trip to the Cardiologist , he was told he had No pulse! This raises much laughter.
He tells the group they are inspirational and they are, the stoicism and bravery of them all is so utterly commendable and heart breaking. Before he leaves, he wants to do something nice for Len and Kaye, so he arranges for them to spend the afternoon with their feet in the sand on a deck chair, Pina Colada in hand so they can be on holiday together again.unable to travel he sets it up in a room and Len light’s up.
Paul’s philosophy is that Life is for living, be prepared that Death might come a calling but do not dwell on it. This is a brilliant maxim as Paul goes to meet some very sprightly ladies whose Seniors exercise class is a joy to behold. Lots of ladies laughing, getting active and showing poor Paul up in the use of a resistance band, he almost has his eye out with his!!
He meets 94 year old Lily who is fully in control of her faculties. She has never smoked and never gets drunk and secretly utilises the exercises she has learnt here at home every morning too! She is delightful and Paul takes her on a circuit of the floor when they play tag dance.
Paul has successfully passed his Training!
He gets to wear his Uniform minus the Two Salvation Army Collar S’s to signify his "Saving to Serve". Proudly watched by several of the people he has helped along the way, he gets to March down Oxford Street, quite literally banging his drum. Following in a great Salvation Army Tradition of brass bands.
Since 1878 they have been calling out to the public to bring them to God today there are now Four hundred bands and it is a childhood dream realised for Paul and the joy that He obviously experiences from that moment is visible in his beaming smile.
Immersing himself in every mission, dealing with people in need, people in emotional struggle and strife and working alongside people of Faith and HUGE hearts for giving, listening and empathising. He may not have been “Saved” but he most assuredly has re-learned to Serve.
This was a truly enlightening and entertaining show that was a perfect vehicle for Paul O’Grady and a brilliant advertisement for the truly tremendous work done by the Salvation Army. Paul was the perfect Host of the show, his animal programmes showed his empathetic and kind nature, but his time as a Trainee Officer opened him up in ways that I do not think that even he, ever felt possible. It was an awful lot of fun but also got to the heart of some of the most pressing social issues affecting the UK and in fact the world. I hope that it increases the amount of donations in collection tins, Foodbanks and Sally Army shops because the work is just so worthy.
If you have been inspired by the blogs, I urge you to look into the many ways you might be able to help the Sally Army or The Hospice association with their vitally important work.