I’ll never forget the moment we sat with the consultant telling us our mum was dying of terminal lung cancer. We asked how much time she had left; Mum wanted to know as did we (me and my six sisters). We were told someone with her diagnosis could have six months to three years. I was hooked to the three years. There was no way she was going after only six months. But I was wrong.
Mum started chemo just before Christmas at her own insistence. They'd wanted her to wait so she could enjoy Christmas but Mum didn't want to. I wish she had. To enjoy one last Christmas as a family without her feeling so poorly, in hindsight, would have been so special. Mum felt awful though and within a couple of days she couldn't move. Days later, she was in hospital where she stayed for two months. She never walked again.
Mum started to deteriorate rapidly. One of my sisters called Hospice in the Weald late one evening and a Hospice in the Home nurse arrived the very next day. It was such a relief to have someone there putting Mum’s and our needs first. The following day Mum was moved to the In-Patient Ward at the Hospice.
She was given a lovely, peaceful room which was clean and bright and airy, overlooking the orchards outside, and we put her large photo of all seven of us girls on the wall. The warmth and kindness shown to Mum and all of us was wonderful. The understanding of what we were all going through was plain to see from staff and volunteers alike. If someone found you on your own they offered comfort, whether a hug or just a tissue or a cup of tea, but if you wanted time by yourself then they left you alone.
In the first few days while Mum was still lucid, she had many visitors including our large family and old friends. The Hospice staff knew how important this was for us all and were so accommodating. We were all able to laugh together and cry together, we could gather in the lounge if Mum needed fewer people around her at a time.
The Quiet Room was of great solace to my sisters and I as a place where we could go when we needed to but didn’t want to leave. My children also went in, gave the bear lots of cuddles, coloured their butterflies and wrote messages for Nanny. I had many a sob in there, and still have my special moments lighting a candle there for Mum, writing in the book and looking for her name whenever I’m at the Hospice.
When Mum was actively dying, there was a forget-me-not workshop in the day room area, and the staff enabled my sisters and me to make one each. We all returned to finish our forget-me-nots or finish them for the sisters that lived too far away – beautiful things that we will all treasure.
We all stayed the night at the Hospice with Mum on different occasions. The staff were amazing, not only coping with Mum and all she had to go through, but coping with us and our own difficulties dealing with the situation. I’m still not sure I was even really there as Mum slowly ebbed away, yet I could see her and hold her hand and help moisten her lips, not really sleeping as I’d jump up with every change in her breath. Out of nowhere another member of staff or a volunteer would appear at the hardest of times with a cup of tea and Marmite on toast. Keeping it real, giving their support.
I could go on in huge detail about those last few days and nights we spent at the Hospice with Mum but it’s all too sad, something many other family members will understand only too well. Benjamin, my eldest son, told me recently that ‘just after Nanny died, I made a gravestone for her in Minecraft’. I was so touched.
This will be our families first Christmas without mum (Mum 7 daughters, 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren!) As a family, we look forward to this year’s Light Up a Life service, our chance to join with other families and remember our mum, our children’s nanny, together as a family.
What I want to celebrate this Christmas is the Hospice, and the care they give – helping my mum leave this earth in dignity and comfort, helping my sisters and I cope with everything. Those of us lucky enough to live nearby can still access their support, which is so vital as we learn to live with this sadness. I’ve had reflexology and one of my sisters has had counselling, plus three of us went to the recent patient, family and carer Retreat Day and enjoyed relaxing reiki and wonderful calming Qi Gong.
It’s so vital to have Hospice In the Weald giving this ongoing support to people with a terminal illness and their families and carers in our community now and in the future. The compassion and support they give to adults and children alike to cope with losing the people they love and help to find comfort and peace as we embark on a new pathway without our loved one is invaluable.