“If there are two people in the room and not one, you’re not so lonely”

By Jenny
Marie Curie Helper volunteer

Jenny has been a Marie Curie Helper volunteer in Somerset since it first started in 2009. As a carer herself, caring for her mother-in-law and her husband, Jenny has found volunteering for the Helper service mutually enriching – for her and the people she supported. Five years on, Jenny reflects on her role and why she thinks the service provides such valuable support for terminally ill people and their families.

Jenny, Marie Curie Helper volunteerAs a carer myself, I felt if I could do something to help someone else, it would perhaps make my own experience easier. Volunteering for the Helper service helped me to focus on something different. So, on each Thursday afternoon, I look forward to spending quality time with the person I’m visiting.

In the Helper service, each volunteer gets paired up with one family who they will give dedicated support to for a few hours every week. The support we provide as Helper volunteers varies from person to person, and even week by week, as it depends very much on the needs of the terminally ill person and their family.

I remember my first few visits when I felt anxious – only because I wanted it all to work out. I wasn’t quite sure what I might be doing during a particular visit, where to start or what people’s expectations are. So having an open mind and a positive attitude helps, and being able to go with the flow.

It usually takes me a couple of visits to figure out what somebody wants, and then it comes naturally as you get to know the person more. You just need to go along, listen and try to understand what people are looking for – you’re not always going to get it right to start with, so it’s also about learning from one another.

For a few hours, we would try to forget about her illness

The person I have recently provided support to loved history so we started off looking at history books. Because she was very poorly, I went to see her each week never quite knowing what we were going to do on the day.

Sometimes, we had a bit of fun going out on short trips in the car around the moors and villages, an activity she took a lot of pleasure from. At other times, I just listened but didn’t have the answers. There were times when I didn’t know what to say or when she couldn’t express how she felt. And when she was exhausted, we weren’t saying much at all.

We had some good days, when we were laughing and joking. I was thinking how courageous she was and how we would try to forget about her illness for a couple of hours. Looking back, I am glad I was able to brighten up her day a little with my visits.

Sometimes it might just be a glance or a smile

I thought that we didn’t do anything at all on some days. But having had the time to reflect on it, I’ve come to realise that it’s being there that’s the important part. When she was really ill towards the end, it was not always about doing something.

I suppose when you’re ill, knowing that somebody you have a bond with is there to hold your hands – and sometimes it might just be a glance or a smile – is enough. If there are two people in the room and not one, you’re not so lonely. I think she was pleased that I was there.

For me, the Helper service makes a real difference because it has the feel-good factor. It might be because people are telling you the story of their life which is very personal and interesting. Or it might be because they can look forward to someone other than their carer, nurse or family member to share moments with them.


The Marie Curie Helper service is currently available, free of charge, in some parts of the UK. Find out more about the service.

If you are interested in becoming a Helper volunteer, find out if we are recruiting in your area.