“St Catherine’s is the sort of team you want on your side”

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This week is Hospice Care Week. Here Carrie shares how our hospice supported her and her Mum and why she’s decided to donate her time to support us.

“My Mum, Elaine, was a remarkable woman and an amazing Mum

She taught me so many valuable life lessons, but one that has served me so well was that she was always very accepting of everyone and everything, and never held judgement. She always said that you don’t know what’s really happening in people’s lives, they might be experiencing their own challenges, so you should always be kind.

Mum showed so much bravery in her life. She suffered bereavement at such a young age having lost her first husband only a few months after they were married. She did find happiness again when she met my Dad, Terry, and they went on to have me and my brother, Daniel. Tragically we lost my brother Daniel in a fishing accident at 21

Mum was such a pillar of strength in holding our family together through this loss.

Mum’s life challenges didn’t stop there, she also went on to have a 10-year battle with cancer

She went into remission for a time but then her cancer came back. Regardless of what she was going through and how tough the struggle, Mum would always find the positive in a situation and always maintained such a positive outlook on life.

She had such strength, even though she told me she didn’t feel particularly strong, she had such a positive mindset

She used to help others going through cancer as well and would say if ‘I can help others it makes my suffering worthwhile’. She had a big influence on so many people’s lives.

I reflect back to a tribute I read at her funeral and I had to include the one word I heard consistently from friends and family after she died – Inspiration

So many people said she was truly inspirational in the way she supported people, the way she lived her life, and just the depth of care that she had for others. It was clear she was an inspiration, but I know she had no idea of her impact on others. She really was the best Mum a girl could have ever wished for.

Mum had amazing support from the hospice – they did a lot for her

And she always spoke so highly of the nurses there, they were so much more than a caring team, they were more like friends to her.

Mum loved being pampered and she attended the Living Well Centre for wellbeing sessions. She loved the social part of going to the hospice and found it so valuable spending time with, and connecting to, people in a similar situation

She also had hospice support at home for a while. When the nurses were visiting Mum at home, as well as offering her practical care, they would sit and chat with her. I remember so many times popping in to see her and finding her having a cuppa and a chat with the nurses.

Mum’s experience with St Catherine’s was so positive and I know she felt such an affinity with the hospice. She’d already told me that when the time came, she wanted her last day to be at the hospice because the team made her feel comfortable and content

When your parents become ill there’s a role reversal

It was a very tough time with both Mum and Dad being unwell. My Dad had Alzheimer’s during the time Mum had cancer and looking back now I realise I was their carer, although I don’t think I’d have labelled myself that at the time

I was happy to do things to help them, as any daughter would, but I was juggling a lot and it became more over a period of time. I was working full time, taking Mum and Dad to their various hospital appointments, doing their shopping, and sorting their bills, as well as trying to balance my own life priorities.

When the hospice team got involved and started visiting Mum at home, it felt like such a pressure had been lifted

It was a relief to know they were also supporting Mum and she had the medical care she needed. The nurses would catch her if she was feeling unwell and do what they could to make her feel better. This was a huge help in addition to the support I was giving her.

When Mum became less well and was admitted to the hospice I was with her day and night

Mum had accepted the situation much better than I had, but she was so desperate for me to let go and understand what was happening to her.

I knew what Mum going into the hospice meant but I wasn’t prepared to accept it. Even when I was in the hospice with Mum, I was still trying to balance work and look after Dad, and I was still saying things like I need to get her to the chemo appointments to make her better

The nurses sat me down and made me understand the reality

We’d been there a few days when the nurses sat me down. I remember it was a Wednesday. They were so lovely and compassionate. They helped me understand the situation and the reality, that Mum was in her last days, in the most supportive way possible.  It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to hear – I remember it like it was yesterday

Although it was totally heart-breaking, and the hospice team helped me handle this in the most compassionate way they could. I will never forget their kindness.

The hospice supported both Mum and I

It didn’t feel like a hospice during the time we were there, it was our home, and the nurses were just amazing.

We really felt we had a team behind us, supporting us

Our experience far surpassed any expectations I may have had, and it was clear that the nurses and wider hospice team saw it as a privilege to take care of people like Mum.

Everyone was so accommodating and would do whatever Mum wanted. As her daughter, I tried to cater for Mum’s every need, but if Mum fancied eating something in particular, the catering team would provide it.

It was things like that – an accumulation of small, little, amazing contributions that made the care so special

I didn’t ever feel like a burden either

I often stayed overnight and was offered a bed in the family room, but I wanted to be with Mum so I’d sleep propped up on the bed next to her, and nurses would make sure I had pillows and blankets.

Mum was at the hospice in the September and I remember the most peaceful day in the garden together

There was some late summer’s sun, so the nurses took Mum’s bed outside into the garden. It was the most perfect day I can remember, just sitting outside, enjoying the sun and serenity with Mum.

Once the nurses made us comfortable, Mum and I sat talking about where in the world we’d be if we weren’t at the hospice. We were discussing what beach we’d be sitting on. One of the nurses asked us ‘what beach are you on then?’ and the team told us that they’d make us some food and drink that would help us feel like we were there. They made us a fruit cocktail and the Catering Team had got to know Mum so well; they knew she liked Bacardi and added that to our cocktail without prompting. We sat admiring the colours of the garden flowers, drinking our cocktails in the afternoon sun

I’m so grateful that I had the chance to share that precious moment outside with Mum, and it was lovely that the hospice team shared in those memories and experiences with us.

Thanks to St Catherine’s we have lovely memories of Mum’s last few days

When you hear the word hospice it can have negative connotations, but thanks to St Catherine’s, we were able to make sure Mum passed away with dignity and come away with lovely memories of those last few days

If we hadn’t had the support of the hospice, things would have been very different. My family and I wouldn’t have those memories, and if Mum had been at home or in a hospital, it would have taken away the personal, intimate times we had at the hospice.

Mum dying was one of the most traumatic experiences I’ve gone through and nobody can prepare you for that. If Mum hadn’t been at the hospice, I probably would have felt like I didn’t do enough for her, but being there with her and embracing the hospice was enough. I was able to be her daughter, not a carer, in her last few days, and that was just invaluable

St Catherine’s is such a lovely, supportive, caring team – they’re just the sort of team you want on your side when you’re going through a massive life challenge like this.

After Mum passed away, I had bereavement counselling with the hospice, which was my first experience of therapy

It was so positive that I’ve carried on since. I’ve suffered with depression after all the losses I’ve had, and it’s been so helpful to talk to somebody. Since Mum died, I’ve been back to St Catherine’s as my aunt also passed away there.

Through my counselling and therapy, I’ve realised it’s really important for me to find something purposeful that’s connected to my Mum and my aunt, so I’ve started volunteering at the hospice.

Volunteering felt like the right thing

I started volunteering in the hospice coffee shop about 18 months before the coronavirus pandemic. As the hospice had supported Mum, my aunt and our family so well, it felt right to give something back. I helped the lovely Maggie in the coffee shop on Sundays, making tea and coffee and cutting up the lovely homemade cakes. Volunteering with the hospice made me feel a part of the team that gave my family so much

I’ll sometimes sit and chat to families and patients in the coffee shop. I like to listen to people and give them a sympathetic ear because I can empathise and understand what they’re going through. When you’ve been through something similar yourself, you have a different ability to connect with people.

Sometimes when someone comes into the coffee shop you can just see they need to talk. By being there, listening, I’m paying it forward and I hope it helps to make other people’s hospice experience better.
You only get one shot at life. After all the trauma, upset and losses I’ve experienced, if I can do something that positively impacts other people, that feels like a valuable contribution

Since these life challenges, I’ve been exploring post-traumatic growth, and as part of that, I ask myself how can I positively impact others going through what I’ve gone through? Doing that is a tribute to Mum as it’s exactly what she did and it’s what she would have done – Mum would want me to share and help others

In life you do whatever you can to make your parents proud, and even though Mum and Dad aren’t physically here anymore, I still live to their values and to what they saw in me.

I’d encourage everyone to connect with their inner generosity and donate to the hospice if they can

You can’t underestimate the difference and impact any donation you give, big or small, will make to the families the hospice cares for.

You make a positive contribution with any donation – you really are making a difference.”

View Carrie speaking about the cherished memories she made with her Mum and read more about other people’s experiences of hospice care within our stories section

To make a donation so we can help more families in future please click here or call 01293 447361.