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Butterfly Volunteers: Truly Inspirational

Working with volunteers who support people facing the end of their life is such an inspiration.

When I first started doing this work in early 2016 I was worried that it was too much of “an ask” to find people to take on the role. How wrong was I?

The team, efficiently led and looked after by Jo, have been actively supporting dying patients, and their loved ones since mid January, at The Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow. The 18 volunteers on the team have taken to their new role as if they’ve been doing it for years.

We’ve had wonderful feedback from ward staff. One Ward Manager commented “a family member of a patient supported by the Butterfly Volunteers wanted me to let you know what a huge comfort it was to her to know that her aunt wasn’t alone when she died” and “what a wonderful service you are providing – the ward team and I’m sure the hospital as a whole truly appreciate all that you do”.

Slowly but surely we ARE making a difference. We already have a list of 16 people who are interested in joining the team and becoming a Butterfly Volunteer.

In the first month of the scheme the Butterfly Volunteers at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust have:

Undertaken 93 visits to 53 patients, 47 of whom would otherwise have been alone, and 3 of whom died with a Butterfly Volunteer present. In total they our wonderful team of volunteers have provided 62 hours of 1:1 care and support to patients in the last days and hours of their life.

A Butterfly Volunteer’s Story (names have been changed)

Here is a story, written by a Butterfly Volunteer, which underlines the need for these teams of amazing people – in my opinion in every hospital in the land.

“When I entered Iris’s room I sensed the end was possibly near – but you can never tell.

As I approached the bedside it looked as if Iris had stopped breathing. I gently placed my hand on hers, quietly introduced myself and asked if it was ok to sit with her for a while. She started to breathe.

I said I would close the door and pull up a chair, Iris’s face was looking towards the window but I noticed that the window blinds were closed and thought that it was such a shame to block out such a lovely day.

I asked Iris, ‘Is it ok to open the blinds?’ I sensed that it was ok so I opened two of the blinds and let the daylight in, it was a bright sunny day and the birds were chirping away. I sat down and gently stroked Iris’s forehead and said ‘everything’s going to be ok’. I noticed that there were four birthday cards from her nieces and nephews so I proceeded to read them out to her, after I had finished a tear rolled down her right cheek so I carefully wiped it away.

To be honest I don’t really remember what words of comfort I spoke to Iris, as they just seem to come from somewhere inside me, but from where I have no idea, but words befitting for Iris they were.

I quietly sat with Iris, occasionally gently stroking her forehead. Another tear rolled down her face, again I softly wiped it away. I said that when she was ready it was ok for her to let go, and continued to sit quietly with her. Iris’s breathing was very gentle not laboured at all, in fact she looked quite peaceful and resigned to what was awaiting her. A third tear rolled down Iris’s cheek and then she stopped breathing.

I placed my hand onto hers with the other gently stroking her forehead, as I had done before and prayed for her to have a safe, loving, light filled journey and thanked her for letting me share in her passing.

I informed the nurse of what had happened and she went to see Iris straight away, confirmed that Iris had passed and laid the bed straight, I asked if it was ok if I could stay for a bit and she said it was ok.

As I sat with Iris, an overwhelming sense of emotion came over me and tears welled up in my eyes, I again prayed for Iris to have a safe journey and thanked her for this precious moment. I rose to my feet, gently kissed her forehead and left.”



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