Northern Ireland Hospice: Gratitude of loved ones writ large upon walls
The building lies empty. But the walls are filled with the words of families who were cared for there, when faced with the terrible moment of losing a mother, father or other loved one.
Scribbled in the corridors of the derelict Northern Ireland Hospice, in red, green and black ink, are the memories and thoughts of grieving families who over decades were supported by the nurses during their darkest hours.
Among the many memories captured on the walls are fitting words of praise for the hospice nurses, who are there to help give dignity and support to people before the end of life.
"Angels in nurses' clothes," one grateful relative wrote.
The Northern Ireland Hospice was forced to leave its north Belfast home in late 2012 when the dilapidated state of the Victorian-era building became too much.
Staff were compelled to move 18 seriously ill patients from the crumbling building into the smaller and distinctly more clinical surroundings of the old Whiteabbey Hospital.
They had to move ahead of a major fundraising project to transform the Somerton Road facility – and before Government funding had been finalised. Before it made the temporary move to Whiteabbey, it asked families helped by the adult hospice over the decades to return once more.
There they wrote on the walls, creating a 'memory wall'.
Some messages are short. Just the name of their loved one and RIP, or 'missed terribly'.
Another says: "Thank you so much for looking after my Daddy. He was comfortable, respected and all his wishes were met. The staff were wonderful angels in nurses' clothing."
Others wrote passionately about the difference the nurses made. "Both my parents received hospice care in the community but when it got difficult at home, the hospice at Somerton Road provided a haven which brought peace to my parents but in a physical and emotional sense. We could never have coped at home. Three sons just didn't know who to turn to.
"Hospice was our safety net. We continue to be indebted to the staff who took care of mum and dad... and us."
Within 18 months the corridors, which are now sealed off, will become busy once more – transformed by a £13m redevelopment.
Cindy Anderson, manager of the unit, said it was vital the work was completed. "You have to care. To be there for your patient. The patient and families come first.
"We enter people's lives at the most difficult times. It is the most rewarding job – all the staff would say.
"It can be challenging at times, but we have an incredibly supportive multi-disciplinary team. That includes everybody from the housekeeping staff right up to the consultants.
"I love my job. I wouldn't change it for the world."
'I'll never forget all they did for mum'
Fiona Barton is among the people who know only too well the value of the hospice team. Her mother Edna (85), from Bangor, was diagnosed with leukaemia and received support from the community care team during the last weeks of her life.
"Mum received care from the community hospice," Fiona said.
"I didn't know they had community care. It was actually the consultant in the hospital who put us in touch with hospice care –they could do no more."
She added: "Mum was in a nursing home and the staff there, they were waiting for them to come in because they are so trained in pain relief.
"The doctors listened to them because they are such experts in their field."
Fiona explained after her mother passed away the nurses remained in touch.
"They offered us bereavement counselling and support, which I think people don't realise. I think people think the hospice is a building where people go to die. They do so much more, so many more services," she said.
"Not that they can make things better, but they can help ease the suffering of the person and the family.
"It is so important, because at times I felt I was so alone.
"It is a safety net. I will never forget what they did for mum and for us."