The real meaning of dying with dignity

The real meaning of dying with dignity The Gardens in Harold's Cross Hospice.
Spring Legacy 2019 – Last Call to Action
Chai Brady speaks to OLH about compassion and end-of-life care


A hospice is not a hospital, it is place someone goes to live out the final phase of their life in peace and comfort with the support of friends, family and expert empathetic staff, says Ireland’s leading provider.

Continuing the mission of the Sisters of Charity based on human dignity, compassion, justice, quality and advocacy, Our Lady’s Hospice and Care Services (OLH) are at the forefront of finessing what it means to be cared for professionally and personally.

The body was established in 1879 and is now the country’s largest hospice with 200 beds.

They run two hospices, Harold’s Cross Hospice which was founded at the very beginning, and Blackrock Hospice which was established in 2003, meaning they now have a catchment area of almost one million people.

A third hospice will be added to the family when Wicklow Hospice opens in 2019/2020.


The prospect of receiving hospice care can be daunting, but some never look back.

Mother-of-three Laura Conway (55) felt lonely, and as if she was “in limbo” after her cancer diagnosis. The mini-marathon champion and running enthusiast participated in the Women’s Mini Marathon more than a dozen times.

Throughout the years, she raised money for different local causes close to her heart and always enjoyed the experience, whatever the weather.

Speaking about when she engaged with the hospice she says: “Before coming here, I felt very lonely. I felt like my world was falling apart but when I came here, everything changed. It gave me something to look forward to. I am going to have my day and I’m going to come in and get a head massage or a foot massage, or whatever I want. They just want you to be happy and content.”

Laura first met with the Hospice’s Community Palliative Care Team, who provide specialist care in people’s homes.  They invite her to come in weekly to the day hospice service. She later decided to come in to stay for a week as an in-patient so the team could work with her to manage her pain.

“It’s a respite, it’s making sure that you are looked after.  You just don’t feel on your own”

“I knew I needed that initial time just to get my head around what I’d been told, and how to react to people,” she says. “You don’t know how to be yourself, and I thought, will I ever be Laura again?”

But she says she felt peace and relaxation the moment she walked through the doors of the hospice.

“None of my friends have cancer, so I felt like I was in limbo. And then when I came to the hospice, I felt normal. I felt the normality of it, like I’m not a person who’s going to die straight away. Things are going to happen in a process.  It’s nice to chat to people thinking similar things.

“You also have the banter and a chat with the volunteer driver who brings you in and drops you home.  My daughter offered to do the driving but I said no, this is my day, you can have time out from looking after me. So it benefits the family as well.”

When a referral to the hospice was first brought up Laura says: “Well, obviously, the first thing that pops into your head is, I’m going to die. This is the last resort sort of thing.

“But then you realise it’s not like that at all, it’s a respite, it’s making sure that you are looked after.  You just don’t feel on your own. Even if it’s the middle of the night, you can press the button and the nurses will come down and chat to you,” she says.

In 2018, the hospice provided care to over 4,000 patients and their families. The Director of Fundraising and Communications, Eleanor Flew, says that people might be surprised to know “that we see most of our patients in their own homes, and in 2018 we undertook almost 12,000 specialist palliative homecare visits to those in their own homes”.

This year is a “very exciting” time for OLH as it celebrates its 140th birthday, accentuated further by the opening of their “largest and most ambitious project” in their history last year.

In 2011 they began the redevelopment of their 36 bed in-patient unit in Harold’s Cross, which turned the rooms into single rooms rather than four-bed rooms. This offers privacy, overnight couches for family and friends to stay over, a doorway big enough for a bed to go through so patients can enjoy their garden and more.

In particular, Ms Flew says: “The overnight couch has transformed the experience for patients and their families.”

She told The Irish Catholic: “This unit would not be possible without fundraising. We simply could not have achieved this new build without the support of our donors and in particular our legacy donors as legacy reflects 46% of our income. We are truly grateful to all those who support our work.


Highlighting the importance of donations, she says that the total build cost was €14.6 million – €13.6 million of that were donations – meaning over €6 million of the cost was provided by legacy donors.

There are big plans for the future as OLH are completing refurbishment on 12 specialist palliative care rooms in Blackrock Hospice. This is estimated to cost €1.5 million which will be made possible through donations.

Further reconfiguration and expansion is planned for services in Harold’s Cross over the next number of years which will cost €6-7 million, this will also be fundraised.

The importance of donations can’t be understated, according to Ms Flew, who says OLH has seen a 14% decrease in State funding since 2009.

“At the same time we have seen an increase in in-patient admissions, so we have to do more with less and this is where fundraising comes in. We need to raise on average €4-5 million every single year to sustain our current services.”

It is well known that Ireland’s elderly population is steadily increasing. According to CSO statistics released in 2016, 37.2% Ireland’s population were aged 45 and over, compared with 34.4% in 2011 and 27.6% in 1986.

This will no doubt put pressure on elderly services across the country.

For OLH, legacies are key to allowing them to continue their service for some of the most vulnerable in society, as they ready themselves for the life to come.