Palliative Care Week – Q&A with Peter Williams

Peter Williams

Peter Williams is a Spiritual Care Coordinator at Peninsula Health. He works with patients in palliative care and their families to provide emotional and bereavement support.

As part of Palliative Care Week, we spoke with Peter about how he helps people reflect on important aspects of their lives.

Read Peter’s responses below.

  1. What does the Palliative Care Week theme – ‘It’s your right’ – mean to you?

It is often said that we come into this world alone and we leave this world alone. However, most people are accompanied by others who journey with them in both of these life stages. We have no say in the care we receive when we are born, but I believe it is every person’s right to be listened to and understood as they deal with the various emotions they may experience while undergoing treatment. I also believe it is every person’s right to receive excellent person-centred care at their end of lives. Peninsula Health’s Palliative Care Unit strives to provide such care by attending to a patient’s physical, emotional, psychosocial and spiritual needs. 

  1. What role do you play in providing person-centred palliative care?

Together with the social work team, our spiritual care workers provide emotional and bereavement support to patients and their families. Since every person’s life journey is unique, each of us encounter a distinctive set of life-giving and life-limiting experiences during the course of our lives. 

A person’s sources of joy, gratefulness, regret, hope, meaning and purpose in life can accompany them and become more significant to them as they or a family member dies.

The complexity of our life experiences mean it is impossible to know what issues a person may want to speak about or how one concern may affect other concerns they may have. I am trained to listen carefully to patients and families and allow them to talk about what is important to them. 

  1. What brings you joy in your work? 

The Palliative Care team is made up of amazing people. Their commitment to providing excellent care is an inspiration to me. I find working in such a collaborative team, dedicated to meeting the needs of patients and their families, extremely rewarding and fulfilling. I am fascinated by human nature.

All my life, I have enjoyed meeting new people and learning from and about them.  As a ‘sixty something’, I was very pleased to read an article recently offering some confirmation of the value of my approach. The author argued that if you were to choose just one activity to reduce the effects of ageing on your mental capacities, meeting new people would be the most valuable!

  1. How do you look after your own mental health?

I like to spend time in my garden. I don’t particularly like gardening, but I enjoy the exercise and it is cheaper and easier than a gym membership! My wife is a fan of my efforts. I also find getting into nature through walking has a calming effect that continues to surprise me in its effectiveness.

In my professional role, I am required to participate in external supervision, which is invaluable in enabling me to reflect on my work in a supportive environment. It is spiritual care for the spiritual carer. As a reflective person, I make time to notice any tension that I may be carrying in my body and the level of anxious thoughts I may be having.

  1. People often think working in palliative care can be a sad career, do you find it depressing?

Personally, I think a sad career would be one where the work you do is not meaningful to you and it doesn’t provide much or any benefit to others. My job provides high levels of both meaningfulness and support for others. In my experience, life’s challenges often enable us to change for the better.

Relating to a lot of people in my work exposes me to having a regular supply of challenging conversations that sometimes ‘press my buttons’. Buttons I didn’t know I actually had. As painful as that can be, it is an opportunity to reflect and say to myself, ‘I wonder why I responded to that person the way I did? What does that say about me?’ Such instances provide me with valuable opportunities to deepen my own self-knowledge. So, I suppose you could say that my work is not just about supporting others, it’s also about helping me to grow as well.