For the past five years, Out of the Blue — the singing group I’m a part of at Oxford — has raised money for Helen and Douglas House, a local charity and the world’s first hospice for children with life-shortening illnesses. Last weekend, we had the chance to visit both houses and sing a few songs for their current guests, an experience I won’t soon forget.
Their annual fundraising concert at Oxford’s New Theatre is coming up on February 27-29, and Out of the Blue will be performing then as well! You can look up tickets here, if you’re around and want to stop by.
I’ve only suffered through one major tragedy in my life: the loss of a close friend due to a sudden accident just weeks before the day of our university graduation. Some days, I’m grateful that I’ve only had to experience something like that once, but most days, I still ask myself the same, eternal questions: Why Michele? Why then? Why ever? I didn’t realize it at the time, but what helped me the most in coping through it was the community of friends that banded together to support one another: everyday, we would sit together in someone’s living room, eating, listening to music, doing homework or just being together in one another’s presence. That space and sense of community was something precious and invaluable – and that’s exactly what Helen and Douglas House creates and celebrates. It is a place of being together, of mutual support and love expressed in ways explicit and inexplicit: a silent embrace, a gentle cuddle, a smile or a home-cooked meal alongside new and old friends.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over my twenty-two years of life, it’s that we all depend on those around us for the warmth of affirmation and encouragement to get through the trials of life. As a student, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the looming threat of papers and exams – not to mention the amped-up pressure to “be successful” added on by society – and at the worst of times, I wouldn’t know what I would do without the friends, family and mentors I am lucky enough to have in my life.
For parents with children suffering from long-term, life-shortening illnesses, those pressures and challenges are immeasurably intensified, and I’m sure many would agree in saying that they would not know what to do without the emotional and physical backing that the carers and staff at Helen and Douglas House provide. Both houses — one for children, and another for young adults — overflow with a sense of wonderful affection; even just walking through the vestibule of Helen House, I felt something magical in how the hospice felt like a home, and not like an institution. Having the chance to sing a few songs for its current guests was an honor, for I have never seen joy and happiness expressed in so many different, touching ways.
That’s a memory that, as a performer and as a human being, I will carry with me forever. It’s not often that we find the time or the energy to step out of our lives and experience what it is like for others, but visiting the hospice houses helped me to do just that. It also helped me realize that we have all, at many points in our lives, simply needed someone to lean on for a bit. In my own small way, I hope to be a part of that support for those who rely on Helen and Douglas House, even if it’s just by singing a few songs and sharing in the joy of life.