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Diary of an ART Butterfly Volunteer: Entry 3

We have spent 7 months at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow where our ART Butterfly Volunteers have provided 738 individual visits to 283 patients who are nearing the end of their life. One of the team, Tanya Cotter, has offered to write a short account of each visit. Here are her thoughts after her third shift:

” Since writing my last diary entry, I have had a mix of experiences that continue to demonstrate the amazing impact we have as Butterfly Volunteers. Being face-to-face with death can be challenging, but seeing first-hand how grateful patients, their families or friends are when I introduce myself and offer something as simple as a hot drink, shows the importance of our role.

On the flip side, I underestimated the impact being a Butterfly would have on me. It has been incredible to have met so many remarkable people who are facing something so devastating, but still take the time to show their gratitude.


About a month ago, I had the honour of meeting Sarah, the first patient I was able to have a two way conversation with. She had just woken up and it was instantly clear how pleased she was to have a visitor based on her smile and how her face lit up.


I explained that I was a Butterfly volunteer and I was there to keep her company and support in any way I could. We spoke for a little while, but I could tell she was tired so I said to her that it was ok to have a nap and that I would be able to stay by her side whilst she slept.


Sarah gently thanked me and said how grateful she was that I was there, which I found really heart-warming. I asked if she would like me to put my hand on her shoulder so she would know I was there as she slept and she nodded with a smile. As Sarah started to drift off, I instinctively moved my hand to stroke her hair, she smiled again and within minutes fell asleep.

Sarah managed to sleep peacefully for about an hour and a half and when she woke up, she seemed much brighter and was pleased to see that I was still there. We spent time talking about all sorts of things, including how she felt about her condition and that she wondered how much longer she would be here. All I could do was listen and express my sympathy.


As it became closer to the end of my shift, I explained that I would be leaving soon but that another Butterfly Volunteer could visit. Sarah accepted the offer and said that she felt so lucky to have had my company. I was bowled over by her appreciation of me just being there, she had slept for most of the time, yet was so thankful.


Sarah asked if she would see me again and I responded by saying that my next shift would be the following week. During our training, as we were told that the patients we visited may only have days, sometimes hours left, I knew there was a chance Sarah wouldn’t be here by the time my next shift came around, so I felt a mix of emotions when she smiled and said she would ‘hang around’ and would look forward to seeing me then.


Before I left, I told Sarah that it was an absolute pleasure to have met her and thanked her for letting me keep her company. She thanked me again and smiled as I waved goodbye.

On this occasion, I did find it particularly tough to leave, so when I went into the office to put away my paperwork, I was pleased to see Evelyn.


Evelyn has been a Butterfly since the start of the Anne Robson Trust and worked in a hospice for 7 years, so has a wealth of experience. I tried really hard to hold back my tears, but I couldn’t help but cry. What I was feeling was completely new to me and I just felt so overwhelmed with how grateful Sarah had been, it was such a humbling experience. Evelyn was so supportive, she gave me a hug and we spoke about what had happened, which really helped.


It was such a privilege to have met Sarah and be able to support in some way, not just from a practical perspective with getting a blanket or passing some tissues, but also by just being there so she wasn’t alone.


I never got the chance to meet Sarah again, but I will always appreciate the time we spent together and the opportunity I have to help others by being a Butterfly volunteer – it truly is one of the most valuable things I could do with my time.”


We have spent 7 months at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow where our ART Butterfly Volunteers have provided 738 individual visits to 283 patients who are nearing the end of their life. Feedback from patients, families and staff has been overwhelmingly positive – read our testimonials here. 

We are talking to more hospitals every day to expand the Anne Robson Trust Butterfly Volunteer scheme, with your help, we can raise the funds needed to provide the training and materials needed for our teams across the country.

Please visit our donation page and help us achieve our aim that “No one dies alone”.

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