St. Joseph’s Hospice, in Hackney, East London, is renowned for its very special Tender, Loving Care of patients who are terminally ill. It was founded by the Irish Sisters of Charity in 1905. I am privileged to be a volunteer on the Chaplaincy Team there, and to have a close association with many patients; one whom I visited many times during his months of pain and special care was Richie.
Richie was a black Afro-Caribbean man, who came to England with his mother and sister when he was young and settled in Stoke-Newington. He received all his education here, and got along very well in life; having become a catholic, he was a very earnest one and loved the rosary very much. When he graduated from College he was employed in Barclay’s Bank, and was very successful there until he was diagnosed with cancer of his face, beginning with his nose. By the time he was admitted to the Hospice he was unknowable, his face was absolutely disfigured. The first time I met him in the Hospice, he was sitting out on a chair in his room and I could not really look at him; I sat on a chair beside him and held his hand. His voice was also impaired, but his hearing was alright; after a few comments, we said a little prayer. When I returned home that evening I told Sr. Ann Salmon about Richie and his suffering, and about my visit. Sr. Ann told me: you must look at him. So on my future visits during the months he was in the Hospice I was able to catch his eyes and communicate with him; he appreciated having time spent with him and he was usually able for a decade of the rosary.
One day his Doctor told me that Richie felt his should go home, but that she had assured him that they could do much more for him in the Hospice than they could do at home; he accepted that fact, and he stayed!
Prince Edward contacted the Hospice some time ahead of his visit, to say that he would like to come to St. Joseph’s, and that he had a special interest in seeing the Hospice gardens, – which are known to be beautiful. So, when Richie heard this news he indicated that he would like to be brought to the garden to meet the Prince. Although he had not been very well a day or two before the visit, he perked up that day, July 9, 2014, and asked to be taken to meet the Royal guest! Lots of photographs were taken, and there was Prince Edward shaking hands with Richie!! Indeed, he spent a few minutes talking to Richie: that really made Richie’s day!
Two days later as soon as I went to the Hospice, I went to Richie’s room, but to my great disappointment, there was another patient asleep in that bed; I came out immediately and I found a chair a short distance away, and, sitting down, I wondered if he might have really gone home. Then two nurses came along and I asked: where is Richie? I was really shocked to hear the very sad news that he had suffered a brain haemorrhage the night he had met the Prince, and that he had died. Gone, to his Eternal Home! Everyone who knew him in St. Joseph’s felt very sad at his going.
Sr. Ann very kindly accompanied me, about two weeks later, to Richie’s funeral mass in the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Stoke Newington. May our prayer and love be a great support to his beloved mother and sister. May Richie enjoy the Beatific Vision!
By Sr. Elizabeth Taaffe