“Ann was an incredibly empathetic person. We had been together for 34 years. One of the hardest things about her death has been the outpouring of love and all the wonderful things people have said about her – how kind she was, how inspirational she was across her career and friendships. Grief makes you wonder whether you made the most of having such a special person in your life.
Ann’s mantra throughout her illness was ‘one day at a time’ and I am trying to live by her words now. She never asked any of her doctors how long she had left to live – we just made the best of what we had, taking each day as it came.
Our journey with the Hospice began with Ann’s oncologist, who had been responsible for her treatment for the previous 18 months. We had a long conversation with him in which he explained that we were at the end of the road, it was not possible for Ann to have any more treatment. That conversation should have felt like her world was ending, but somehow, she spent most of that discussion supporting him, sympathising with the pressures he was under as a medical professional in a pandemic.
She was sympathising with his struggles, as she received the worst news of her life. It is hard to put Ann’s strength into words, but I think that demonstrates it. She continued, taking each day as it came.
So that day we returned home, with the question ‘where do we go from here?’. We have always had structure and a plan, and suddenly we were without one.
The Hospice was mentioned to us and on our first visit, to look around, we thought it was not for us at all. You think of Hospices as being a one-way ticket, and we simply did not want that. I know other people will have that perspective too, but it could not be further from the truth.
So, we continued life at home without further treatment, facing this one way ticket. Ann was getting more and more uncomfortable. Her original diagnosis was bowel cancer, but as her cancer spread, it became harder to manage the pain. At first, the Hospice doctors visited us at home and prescribed her better pain relief. I was shocked and at the same time delighted by the incredible support – I had no idea the Hospice had doctors!
The Hospice had always offered to support me as well, so one day l reached out to them in desperation. l had major concerns that Ann’s suffering was too intense, I rang the Hospice and said: “We need help”.
Finally, we arrived at the Hospice. Ann seemed relatively well, although she was still in a great deal of discomfort.
Arriving at the Hospice brought an overwhelming feeling of peace and safety. It was like we had entered a refuge from all of the confusion and panic of hospital and home. Ann got into bed in this beautiful room which looked out over the gardens, and she was able to rest.
I was able to be by Ann’s side the whole time at the Hospice, which was all I wanted.
The staff and volunteers at the Hospice were unwaveringly supportive, compassionate and caring. Nothing was too much trouble. At the Hospice I knew we had everything we needed. Watching the person I loved the most come to the end of her life, I was incredibly upset, but even in their busy jobs and with COVID and PPE to manage, the Hospice staff extended such kindness and love to me. They sat with me whilst I cried so that I could hide it from Ann; then I’d go back to her room, they’d get me a cup of tea and I could sit with my wife and hold her hand.
I was able to bring Buddy our dog in to visit Ann too, they were both snuggled up on the bed together. How many people know you can take dogs or horses or sheep to the Hospice?! The cleaning staff would come in and greet us with a smile each morning. Staff would come in and make sure she was comfortable and dignified – I was amazed at how much care goes in to everything. Ann was always worried about her personal appearance and to have people just quietly maintain her dignity was so important.
One of the nurses, Claire, stands out in particular. When Ann’s breathing changed one evening she said to me ‘it won’t be long now’. I was prepared for what was to come. I knew Claire and the team would be there for me. My daughter and I were both with Ann as she died.
I will never forget the kindness and friendship of the Hospice nurses. There is such empathy in the way everyone at the Hospice does things – the doctors, nurses, all of the staff and volunteers.
After Ann’s death I had that same question: ‘what do we do now?’. Again, the Hospice guided me through.
I have paid my way for services and medical care all of my life. To have everything at the Hospice offered for free was incredibly humbling. There are so many more aspects to Hospice care than people realise. I would tell anyone needing the Hospice, welcome it with open arms. My family and l will never forget the love and compassion we received.