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David’s wife Marion was diagnosed with cancer in August 2022 and died just five months later, spending her last days at Cottage Hospice, with him by her side. Here, David shares his story and explains the value of counselling to those who have lost a loved one.
“You get this terrible surge of stuff needing to be done in the immediate aftermath of someone dying. There is just so much to sort out. You’re almost too busy to think, the most you can do is work out what’s most urgent and do that first,” says David. “It’s only afterwards you start the process of grieving. It certainly takes time.”
David’s wife Marion was cared for by the nurses and doctors at Hospice in the Weald from November 2022, after her cancer failed to respond to treatment, up until she died in January the following year. They lived together at their home in Tunbridge Wells, where David cared for his wife of 37 years, with help from the Hospice, before Marion eventually moved to Cottage Hospice.
“There are a lot of phrases people use, which I think aren’t helpful at all – ‘getting over it’ is one. You get over an illness and it’s not like that, you’re not ill. There’s nothing wrong with you physically – you’re suffering the most common of things that happen to us as humans. People close to us die. It happens to all of us. You’re definitely not ill so there’s nothing to get over.”
David found counselling a worthwhile and transitional process. I was offered counselling at the Hospice, which started a few weeks after Marion’s death,” he says. “It’s an interesting process; you start by thinking, I’m the one who is doing all the work here. This person has the easiest job in the world – they just have to sit there and listen to me!
“It seems pretty random at times but, over the weeks as it evolves, there is a structure to it. It’s unquantifiable as you don’t know how you would have been without it over that period, but I believe it helped me a lot in sorting out the nature of the process,” David continues.
“I feel I’ve now got a better idea what the process is that I’m going through. I’m starting to learn to live with the new state I find myself in.”
“I’ll never think about the future in the same way because I’ve realised how fundamentally uncertain it is. None of us know what’s around the corner. But it doesn’t mean you don’t think about the future and try to make sensible decisions, which hopefully mean it’ll be a bit better for you,” David says.
“That was the measurable change between the beginning of the counselling and the end – I was much more ready to think about the future. With any thought you have, there are two sides to it. If all the years together hadn’t been so good, you wouldn’t be so upset with it being cut short. I mean, to me, Marion was never an old woman – we had years ahead of us, we thought.
“It is like a coin; all the good memories and the things that are still good because Marion was there are on one side. On the other side you’ve got the pain and the grief and the loss. I am trying to get used to seeing both at the same time. Sometimes one side is a bit stronger than the other but tomorrow it’ll be the other way around, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Marion’s symptoms caused her a lot of pain and it made it difficult for her to eat. It wasn’t easy to manage. Marion was on about six or seven different medications a day. Just getting the list right, with the right things at the right time, wasn’t straightforward,” David says.
“I really don’t know what it would have been like without the Hospice. The level of support and being able to do things at home just took away the stress of traveling to the hospital, waiting to be seen, and the uncertainty surrounding it. It was much more comfortable and much more dignified.
“For a while, even when the disease was quite progressed, it was okay to be at home knowing that we had the possibility of going to Cottage Hospice if that became necessary. Knowing that we had help on the phone. Knowing we had the occupational therapists and district nurses. It could be coped with for a bit.”
When 68-year-old Marion was first diagnosed with cancer, it came as a shock to her and David. Marion had always, until that point, been healthy and active. After feeling some unusual pains that took her to the doctor, in a very short time, it became clear she had a serious illness.
“You don’t expect people to die within a few months. What you do in the moment is focus on what you can do to make things as good as possible. So really, from August when she was diagnosed, very quickly I became Marion’s carer,” explains David.
“We were referred to the Hospice when we were told the chemotherapy wasn’t working. That’s when I discovered the first of many things I didn’t know about hospices at that point. Most of the patients aren’t in a hospice, they’re at home. As Marion was from then until early January.”
“Marion’s decision to go to Cottage Hospice was a very positive choice. We’d been to visit it and she reacted to the calm of the place. The person who showed us around was so nice and explained it all. There was no noise, nobody was rushing anywhere. That strikes you as soon as you set foot in the door,” David explains.
Marion spent the last nine days of her life at Cottage Hospice. David continues: “She could see that the level of need she had, it was beyond what I could do at home, even with help here and on the phone. And some things, you just don’t want your husband doing for you. Marion felt that very strongly.
“I have to say that the family care giver model is so important. The ability to continue caring is hugely beneficial, and I don’t know how things would have been if this wasn’t available. To look back and know I was able to care for Marion until the very end, both at home and at Cottage Hospice, means so much to me.”
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