WHEN 11-year-old Chloe Black flicks the switch on Monday evening, Charlotte Square will finally be bathed in light, joining the rest of the city centre’s festivities. But illuminating the 40ft tree at the heart of the garden signifies more than a desire to step into Christmas with all lights blazing.
For on the St Columba’s Hospice tree every light sparkles in memory of a loved one.
The Light a Light Appeal is the hospice’s traditional festive fundraising drive where people can sponsor a fairy light from just £5 – or donate as much as they would like – as a token of commemoration. And every year more radiant dots of remembrance are added. The idea is simple: Remember a Life, Light a Light.
Donald Reid, the new chaplain at St Columba’s, says he is looking forward to his first Christmas at the hospice, to “making it special and precious for our patients and their families”, and to Monday’s switch-on service.
He adds: “Christmas is a time when we feel close to all those whom we love, and share in the common joy of the festive season. It can also be a time which can seem dark when we feel the loss of a loved one or think of absent friends.
“At Charlotte Square Gardens we mark this special season of goodwill by coming together where we Light a Light on our Tree of Remembrance and celebrate the life of those who are no longer with us.
“We remember that light is stronger than darkness and we take comfort in being together as part of a community at this significant time.”
The St Columba’s tree has been at the heart of the Charlotte Square Christmas celebrations since 1995, and over the years has raised hundreds of thousands for the charity which gives end-of-life care to those suffering from cancer, as well as respite to their families. Last year alone the donations came to around £100,000.
The hospice is trying to raise £26 million to refurbish its original home at Boswall Road. Currently it’s situated at Gogarbank while the rebuilding work takes place.
Completion is due next year, and the focus is now on creating the interior of the hospice, day unit and facilities. Patients’ rooms will be designed to allow natural light to flood in, creating a calm and tranquil environment and French doors will open directly on to the gardens.
But the Light a Light Appeal plays an important part in making sure the hospice can offer its services throughout the Christmas period.
The Light a Light switch-on is at 6.30pm on Monday. Gates open at 5.30pm. A short carol service in St John’s Church on Princes Street will be held after the switch-on. The tree will be lit until Monday, January 6.
‘IT’S THE SORT OF PLACE THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK’
CHLOE Black is not at all nervous about switching on the St Columba’s Hospice Christmas tree lights this Monday with Sir Tom Farmer, she is instead “very excited”.
“I think it’s going to be great,” says the 11-year-old from Newington. “I was delighted to be asked. We light a light every year for dad so it will be exciting to see the tree. I’m going to read a poem too but I’m not sure which one yet.
“I don’t think I’ll be sad though. I think I’ll be quite happy because it’s a really nice way for me to connect with my dad, who died when I was just four.”
In fact it was just before she was due to start school at Mary Erskine’s when her father, Douglas, died. Her mum, Linsay Given Black, says: “I’m so proud of her I can hardly put it into words.
“She’s really quite shy and she hasn’t spoken much about her daddy dying over the years and I didn’t think she would want to do it, but she just said ‘that would be brilliant’. I’m just delighted she’s so up for it. We light a light every year and remember Douglas and I know it’ll be a special moment for Chloe.”
Douglas Black was a 45-year-old successful corporate lawyer when he went to his GP suffering from strange pains only to be told it was probably due to his stressful job. Linsay recalls: “He was in more and more pain and because he had private health insurance he went to the Murrayfield Hospital, had an investigation and they said it was bowel cancer, but they thought they could cut the whole tumour out. We came away thinking it’s bad, but manageable.”
But a further scan said differently. “They told us the cancer had spread to the liver. It was treatable but not curable. It was a shocker to say the least. He asked how long he had, but they didn’t know.”
That was in June 2005, and Linsay says they took the decision not to tell Chloe at the time. “She knew he wasn’t well and he was certainly at home a lot more, but we said nothing about terminal cancer.”
But by August 2006 Douglas was in St Columba’s Hospice. “We lived in Duddingston at the timeso it was the closest hospice for us. He went to the day hospice for therapy for a while and was in and out for respite. But eventually he was in full-time. Douglas was very religious and he found the peace and quiet there very helpful and he spoke a lot with the chaplain. He never asked ‘why me?’, more ‘why not me?’.”
It was only the day before he died that Chloe visited him there. Says Linsay: “I had fantastic friends who were looking after her, having sleepovers, but she really wanted to see her daddy. I told her that daddy was really unwell and wouldn’t be coming home. She didn’t really understand. You just never think you’re going to have to tell your child that her father is going to die.
“The staff at St Columba’s were brilliant in helping me find a way to tell her and prepare me for the questions she might ask. They looked after me and Chloe as much as they did Douglas. They’re not just about the care of the patient but about everyone who’s around them and that’s what makes the place and its staff so brilliant.”
Linsay, who runs her own marketing and PR firm working with charities, also now volunteers as a driver for St Columba’s. “It’s the sort of place that makes you want to give something back,” says the 53-year-old.
‘FRIENDS AT THE SHOP HAVE BEEN A GREAT SUPPORT’
VALERIE Macmillan vividly remembers the day she and her husband of 40 years, Fraser, first went to St Columba’s Hospice.
“He was in very bad pain and nothing was working. They put him in a room of his own, brought us tea and shortbread and asked if we’d prefer to be called Mr and Mrs Macmillan or Valerie and Fraser. They were so lovely, and it was a very calm, kind and wonderful place and they got his pain under control.”
Fraser, a retired journalist, had been diagnosed with colon cancer in May 2009 and, says Valerie, it had “spread quite severely to his appendix and intestines and he already suffered rheumatoid arthritis so it wasn’t a healthy body fighting the cancer”.
She adds: “So that summer we were in and out the hospice a fair number of times.
“It was a lovely summer and they encouraged him to go out when he was feeling good. We would go down to the waterfront at Newhaven and have ice-cream.
“Life was never dull with Fraser. He loved the Outer Hebrides but I’d never been, so in the July my son drove us round them. It was crazy because he was keeping nothing down and we had to keep stopping the car. But it was the best thing we could have done as when we got back he really became too ill to do anything or go anywhere.”
Fraser would still get home from the hospice for the odd night – in particular their 40th wedding anniversary – but on September 11, 2009, he passed away aged 66.
Valerie, 67, adds:
“After Fraser died I was at a loss as to what to do with myself. I’d done a short course on counselling so I wrote offering my help, but rightly they ask you to wait a year.
“Instead I was asked if I’d like to work in the shop, so I do that and I have made a lot of friends there, which has been important to me. My fiends at the shop have been a great support along
with my children and grandchildren.
“I like being able to give something back to the hospice.”
‘THEY WERE LOVELY, COULDN’T DO MORE FOR HIM OR ME’
YVONNE and Stephen Inglis smile out from the pages of St Columba’s Light a Light leaflet, their grins from a happier time, before they had to reach out for help from the hospice.
The couple first visited St Columba’s in 2008, as Stephen’s dad, Rab, was receiving care there and ultimately passed away. But even then they were in the midst of their own cancer battle.
Stephen had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2007 and had to have his whole stomach removed. Then a year later, on Christmas Eve, endoscopy results to discover why he was having trouble swallowing,showed that the cancer was still there and time was now running out.
“It all happened suddenly from that moment, we always thought we’d have longer,” recalls Yvonne from Corstorphine. “By the Easter he was in the Western but they were having trouble getting his pain under control and he was determined he was coming home,” recalls Yvonne from Corstorphine. “So they said he could go home via the hospice. We’d been there before for Rab but this time was different.
“They were just lovely, couldn’t do more for him or me the whole time we were there. He wanted to write cards to all his friends so I could pass them on after he’d died, and they helped him with that. The nurses took a lot of time to get to know him... his football team, that he was a fan of Rod Stewart... little things which meant a lot.”
Stephen, a mortgage adviser with the Clydesdale Bank, was finally able to come home for a weekend, to celebrate his 48th birthday which fell on Easter Sunday 2009. “He came home on Good Friday, but by the Sunday he was in a lot of pain and had to go back to the hospice. It turned out his morphine driver hadn’t been working properly.
“But by the end of the week he had really deteriorated and was in a room of his own. My children, Stephanie and Scott, were just 17 and 15 at the time – he knew he wouldn’t see Stephanie’s 18th – and on the Friday the doctor told us he wouldn’t survive the weekend. But we could stay, the hospice was really very geared towards what we as a family wanted to do.”
Stephen passed away exactly a week after his 48th birthday. “Anything which I can do to help St Columba’s I will do,” says Yvonne, who works at Standard Life. “They helped us so much, the connection was so strong. That’s why I’m delighted to help with Light a Light. This is the first year I’ll be going to the switch-on because I’ve thought it would be too much for me in the past. But I’ve always had a light on the tree for Stephen, and the card you are sent in return has always taken pride of place on my mantelpiece.
“People should realise You don’t have to have used St Columba’s to buy a light. It’s a tree of remembrance it could be for anyone. It’s a really beautiful idea.”
•To donate a light, visit www. stcolumbashospicefundraising.org.uk