Appeal shines light on wonderful care at Wolverhampton's Compton Care centre

For Julie Robson, the moment that sticks in her mind is when a man came to visit her mother, playing Christmas carols on his guitar.

Julie Robson and her sister Chris Hammond, holding a photograph of their mother Brenda Walker
Julie Robson and her sister Chris Hammond, holding a photograph of their mother Brenda Walker

"For one brief moment we got our old mum back," she says.

"I cherish the video of her singing and laughing with us all, that one last time.

"It wasn’t the Christmas we had planned, but the memory holds such a special place in our hearts."

Two years ago, Julie's mother Brenda Walker spent her last Christmas at the Compton Care centre in Wolverhampton.

Staff at Compton Care ensured that Brenda Walker had a special last Christmas with her family

Brenda, who was 86 and lived in the Ashmore Park area of Wolverhampton, had arrived at the hospice two months earlier, and at that time her family thought there was little chance of her seeing Christmas.

"Mum was so poorly, we were sure she only had days left, maybe even hours," says Julie.

"But something changed when she got to Compton. We knew straight away she was in the right hands and was going to get the right care."

Now, as thoughts begin to turn once more to Christmas, Julie is urging people to support the charity's Light Up A Life campaign, to help other families experience the same level of support that Brenda did.

Staff at Compton Care ensured that Brenda Walker had a special last Christmas with her family

Julie, 51, who lives on Willenhall's Coppice Farm estate, expects this Christmas to be a particularly poignant time of year for most people.

"We will hold our loved ones a little tighter, making the most of every precious moment, celebrating in our own special ways that we have got through this year," she says.

But she also points out that for many it will either be their first Christmas without a loved one, or their last Christmas together.

"They might be trying to celebrate knowing they need to make the most of every precious moment, as next year will be very different," she says.

Julie says her mother, a retired auxiliary nurse at New Cross hospital, had always been at the centre of every family Christmas.

Brenda Walker at Compton care with daugther Chris Hammond

"She just loved it and made sure every year we had a Christmas full of our family traditions, the Quality Streets and nuts laid out, home-made sausage rolls and lots of music and laughter," she says.

"She was always there, the life and soul of the party."

Julie says that the moment Brenda arrived at Compton, she was struck by the kindness of everyone she met.

"The nurses and doctors made us all feel so welcome," she says.

Julie says it was a huge relief to know that her mother's pain was being controlled. As Christmas approached, the family decorated her room with fairy lights, and rearranged the furniture so she could see out of the window. She was given complementary therapies to help keep her calm.

"Elaine, the wonderful chaplain was always there for a chat and a kind word," adds Julie.

Brenda's last Christmas at Compton Care

Julie's sister, Chris Hammond, remembers all the staff coming in to visit Brenda on Christmas morning, and her enjoying a drop of sherry to go with her special Christmas lunch.

"The staff pulled out all the stops to make it special," she says. "We knew it was going to be her last Christmas, so we knew it was going to be special. Everyone came in to see her on Christmas morning, it was lovely, a real special day to remember."

Chris adds that shortly before, somebody also visited with a dog, which is known to make people feel better.

Every year, the Light Up A Life appeal remembers those who have died with its special 'Tree of Light'. People are encouraged to remember loved ones by sponsoring individual lights on the tree.

Normally, those who have sponsored a light are invited to turn out for a special switch-on ceremony, but sadly the coronavirus restrictions mean that will not be possible this year.

Instead, the switch-on will be performed online in a virtual ceremony. As normal, loved ones will be remembered in a book of dedication, but this year they will also be featured in a special edition of the Express & Star.

Julie says: "We miss mum so much at Christmas, but Light Up A Life is the perfect way to come together and remember her, as she was at her happiest surrounded by family and laughter.

"We are proud that our donations are helping give other families the chance to create those special memories, to have a Christmas like no other.

"Light Up A Life will look a little different this year, but that won’t stop us from making our donation to see mum’s name in the Book of Remembrance, and watching the beautiful event online."

Rebecca Stone, support care manager at Compton, says the coronavirus has this year cost the charity £2.4 million in lost fundraising, just under a third of its normal income.

"Whilst we have received incredible support from the public and have benefited from being able to access some government grants and relief, we are still facing uncertain times," she says.

"We have had to consider some really challenging things, like the possibility of having to cut back some of our services, doing less in some areas. What a question to have to ask ourselves, 'who matters most?'."

Julie says this year has been tough on charities such as Compton, which need financial support more than ever.

But she hopes that the struggles of 2020 will also have led to people appreciating the difference of even small acts of kindness.

"This year reminded us what can be achieved when we come together, of the joy that a kind word can bring to someone, and how many people have come to rely on Compton Care for that and so much more," she says.

"Your donation could help give another family, like ours, a Christmas like no other."

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