Trees of Remembrance make a difference

14 December 2022

Every Christmas you’ll find Jo Coulam volunteering at a Tree of Remembrance stand for Harbour Hospice. She does as many shifts as she can and can’t imagine a festive season without giving her time in this way.

Jo began volunteering for hospice six years ago to help her get through her first Christmas without her mum, Julia. Julia had been cared for by hospice in 2016 and Jo had found their time in the Inpatient Unit so beautiful she wanted to continue that connection.

“So I signed up and arrived for my first shift with a little wooden cross in my pocket that hospice had given Mum, and I found that helping with the Trees of Remembrance made me feel so much better about everything.

“People come up to you and they’re in the same position. You hear the most beautiful stories, the kids draw little pictures. The whole experience is just so heartwarming.”

Jo knew little about hospice before Julia went into care and remembers clearly the day the charity became an important part of their lives.

“It was a Wednesday morning. The nurse came round to see Mum and said, ‘we want you to come in so we can get your symptoms under control’.

“We weren’t sure about it, but we said we’d go in for a couple of days.

“Honestly, we went in, Mum sat down, and it was the most peaceful I’d seen her in months. In that moment I knew she was never going to leave. I think she felt very safe there. It was like all the things she worried about, hospice took those worries away.”

Julia was cared for at Hospice’s North Shore Inpatient Unit for 10 days before dying peacefully with Jo and other family members by her side.

“It might sound strange, but they were the best 10 days of our lives,” Jo reflects. “Painful, but beautiful.

“The nurses and doctors were so good with all our visitors, they even let us bring our dog Lucy in. On Mothers’ Day the kitchen staff made us a special morning tea with little cakes and tea and coffee. And no one batted an eyelid when my aunt would ring from America at 4am and we’d put her on speaker phone.”

It was the hospice’ team attention to detail that Jo says made all the difference. “Mum had a sign on her door and it had a cat and dog on it because we had a cat and dog at home. It was the way they placed Mum’s things so beautifully on her bedside table. They never shoved things to the side.

“I think some people are quite fearful about going to hospice. But at hospice you feel cared for, even loved. The people are like angels and they make you feel like you’re in heaven on earth.”

Our Trees of Remembrance can be found outside New World Orewa, New World Whangaparaoa until 20 December, and outside New World at Westfield Albany from 16-23 December. They’re also in Farmers stores in Takapuna, Glenfield, Albany and Silverdale. For a small donation write a special message to your loved one and place it on the tree.