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Rebecca’s beloved dad Gerald, died last year and here she reflects on his love of guitars, liking for inappropriate jokes, and how much Hospice in the Weald helped the whole family during his final months.
My dad was a crazy character and a very hard-working, family-oriented guy. I remember, even on holiday he’d be ‘pricing a job’ and thinking ahead! My memories of him as a child include his big, white work van and him, in his high-vis, being covered in dust and cement, dashing into the house to grab something to eat before working hard most of the day.
He was also really into music and loved the Moody Blues, Johnny Cash and Fleetwood Mac. I found it quite special that our house was always listening to such different kinds of music, compared to my friends. He played guitar and dedicated a room in his house to hang his collection! I think even in the final months, music was his escape.
If he wasn’t working or playing guitar, he would enjoy working on his motorbike – especially when my partner worked on one of his in the garage. As he got older, my dad – known as Jed by some – also loved gardening and we spent a lot of time after his diagnosis just sitting in the garden, enjoying a cup of tea together.
When Dad was diagnosed with liver cancer, I had just turned 24 and got back from holiday. I’ll always remember that moment. When he told me, he was sorting out seeds in the garden. He said, “I’ve got liver cancer. Don’t be upset – I am not scared.” I remember this conversation as if it were yesterday – I didn’t really take it in. Typical Dad was always making a joke out of everything. He said, “It’s a bummer, isn’t it?” I realise I never cried in front of my dad – I just wanted to keep it together for him.
It was weird as we were always semi-prepared for this kind of news because he had fought cancer twice before. In his thirties, he had stomach cancer and this had spread to testicular cancer. He used to joke that he had practically lived at King’s College Hospital. The difficult thing was that I wasn’t born when he had cancer before, so I hadn’t experienced him going through this. For me, it was really tough when he got the diagnosis.
A few months later, the Hospice began to help Dad with care and support, as well as helping us too. At first, they visited dad at home and the nurses from the Hospice helped move his bedroom downstairs. This is when it hit me that the chemo was not going to work, and I was really upset. He had always been a big man, a big presence, and suddenly he wasn’t even able to stand up very well.
I thought my dad was too young to be suffering like this. This feeling stayed with me when we went to visit Hospice in the Weald a few weeks later. It was Dad, his partner, Di, my sister, Jess and me. I was amazed as the people and the building were so nice and I remember my dad saying that it felt really homely. It was then that I met people who were the same age as me, going through their own end-of-life journey.
I met a lovely lady whose son was my age with cancer. She told me he used to race at Bayford Meadows. I met all of his family and friends. It is only through that and talking to staff that you realise the Hospice is for everyone, and it changes your whole perspective.
You just never know – it could be yourself, your friend, someone younger than you. You hear on the radio and watch on TV about people who are terminally ill, but because it is not affecting your bubble, you go along with life blissfully unaware. But at any given moment one of us can be affected. That’s why places like Hospice in the Weald are so important.
I felt nervous the first few times I went to the Hospice but the more I went, the more homely it felt. The staff were so welcoming and helpful, and they even had a small, brown therapy dog called Mr Hicks who my dad adored! On his good days, he liked to give us a tour of the place and I felt like he was doing a tour on MTV Cribs! He used to joke that the hydrotherapy bath was his jacuzzi. It was really nice to see him comfortable and it almost took your mind off what was happening.
As his condition deteriorated, he moved to the Cottage Hospice, in Five Ashes. We used to joke he was doing the full tour, bless him! This is where their help was even more amazing as they helped stabilise him enough to be able to travel to Cornwall for my sister’s wedding. She had moved the wedding forward because of his health and just two weeks before he had been very unwell but he kept insisting, “I’ll make the wedding. I’ll walk you down the aisle!”
The Hospice made everything possible so that he could go, even contacting a local hospice in Cornwall in case he needed them. He did walk her down the aisle, and he made a fantastic and funny speech, which we have recorded. That’s really special to me, to be able to listen back to those moments.
I feel so grateful that we had support from Hospice in the Weald during my dad’s final months. The nurses made us feel at home, but we also knew they were on standby 24 hours a day; they explained what we should expect in his last days, such as him not being able to eat or drink anymore, for example.
It was distressing, but the Hospice made us feel at ease. In his last days, all the family were there. We had uncles, cousins, my brother playing guitar and we even brought in my dad’s cat! There was no question of visiting hours or waiting times – it was relaxed and as comfortable as possible for everyone, and there was a kitchen we could use, and beds for family members to sleep in.
The staff made it a safe environment to show emotions and I feel so lucky that my dad had that care. We put such an emphasis on coming into this world and I think we should have the same when we are leaving. Those last days were so full of people that it was like coming into a house at Christmas, and I think my dad knew that too.
I am not a runner by any means, but I decided to train for a 10k to raise money for Hospice in the Weald at their annual Hospice Run. If I want everyone else to be able to have this experience, then we need to keep sharing stories and this run is a way to get my story out there and raise money. Every penny counts. I want everyone to be able to have what my dad had.
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