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CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT: Norma is at Highland Hospice to help people ‘live until they die’

By John Dempster

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Norma Higgott.
Norma Higgott.

When Norma Higgott, the chaplain at Highland Hospice in Inverness reaches the Cromarty Bridge on her way home from work, she consciously hands everything over to God for the night.

This enables her to recharge her own batteries, before beginning again to think and pray about the people she entrusted to God for the night as she crosses the bridge on her drive back to Inverness in the morning.

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It’s one of the ways Norma, a Deacon in the Scottish Episcopal Church, has learned to care for herself in a very demanding role.

It involves listening, and talking – with patients, their families, people in the community, and hospice colleagues. She visits each bedside regularly, encouraging people with life-limiting conditions, whether they are religious or not, to talk about the thoughts, hopes and fears they may have in the light of their condition. She works in partnership with the hospice team and other local clergy across all denominations and faiths.

Her whole demeanour creates a peaceful, accepting space where people can be real. If they wish, she will read from the Bible and pray with them. Some are burdened by fears about judgement and damnation but through Norma’s accepting presence and words they are reassured of the overwhelming love of God for them.

Norma sees her role as being to help people ‘live until they die’, making the most of the days they have left, doing things they have longed to do. ‘We are given these days to enjoy,’ Norma says, and somehow the knowledge that death is coming often sets people free to be who they are, with no pretence, free to do whatever they please while they can.

She talks about enabling a woman dying of cancer and her husband of 18 years to renew their marriage vows. Later she was invited to take the wife’s funeral, a final act of care for her.

Highland Hospice.
Highland Hospice.

She talks about people close to death being given a deep sense of peace, an acceptance, a knowledge that all will be well. Norma recognises this as a gift from God, and finds it personally ‘incredibly nourishing’.

“I love being able to walk alongside people and to support them at in a very, very difficult time in their lives,” Norma says.

To the job she brings empathy, love, the gift of being fully ‘present’ to people, her wisdom in caring for herself. Above all, she has ‘a deep faith, a very deep faith’ that God is with her in her work, supporting and strengthening.

The God who is with us in this life not only waits to welcome us at the far end of the bridge of dying, but over the dark waters travels with us.

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