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“The hospice made our time together special”

Last week as part of Hospice Care Week we shared Carrie’s experience of our hospice when we supported her Mum, Elaine. Here Carrie’s grandmother Pam shares her experiences of the care her daughter Elaine received.

“Elaine was my eldest daughter; she was one of five. She was close to her family and a lovely person, we always said that she ‘too good for this world’

Elaine was first diagnosed with breast cancer when we all lived in Cornwall. She was a very strong person but she’d had a very sad life – her first husband was killed in a car accident 15 months after they got married, then she lost her eldest son, Daniel in a fishing accident.

After losing Daniel, she and her husband, Terry brought a bungalow in Spain and went to live out there but Elaine missed us and would fly back most weekends! Eventually they decided to move back to England.

Even when she was ill herself, Elaine always offered to help others with their own cancer diagnoses’

She battled cancer on and off for six to seven years but would give out her number and tell people to call her if they needed to chat – that was just like her, always helping others and putting them first

After she died so many people told me what a wonderful person she was. She had so many friends, and I feel so privileged she was my daughter and that people loved her so much.

People still remember and ask me about her today nearly six years on from her death. She was just 59 when she died – too young to go really

Elaine kept her diagnosis from me for quite a while

By then the cancer had spread everywhere, it was in her bones – everywhere. She was so, so brave, but she was starting to struggle at home. A while after Elaine’s diagnosis, Terry was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and as his health deteriorated, he couldn’t care for her.

Just before she went into the hospice she said to me, ‘Mum, I can’t go on any longer.” I knew then that she’d had enough

We spent precious time together

Elaine was at St Catherine’s for a week and her daughter Carrie was with her all day every day. Carrie and Elaine were so close, they weren’t just mother and daughter, but best friends too

My son took me to the hospice to visit Elaine as my husband was ill at the time too, and we all spent precious time together.

Elaine used to enjoy a Bacardi and coke from the drinks trolley, and when she wasn’t able to drink the nurses joked they’d give it to her in a drip which made us all laugh! She was wheeled out into the hospice’s beautiful gardens, and I have lovely memories of her lying on her bed in the sunshine. She was so happy to be out there, and it was so wonderful to see her there and see that the nurses had taken the time to take her outside

The nurses were angels to her, and nothing was ever too much trouble. That time we had together in the garden was nearly six years ago now, but it’s still a memory that’s treasured. By then Elaine knew she was going, and she asked Carrie to take a picture of her giving a thumbs up in her bed in the garden and to post it onto Facebook to say goodbye to her friends. She didn’t look well at all by then, but she kept her sense of humour and was still thinking of others – she was very brave.

The hospice was very different to how I imagined it

Once you’re in there, everyone is so friendly and kind, and I didn’t dread going to visit Elaine, I looked forward to it. There were no rules, and the hospice made our time together special – we really did cherish it.

I remember Elaine used to watch the X-Factor and one evening we decided to have a party up there watching it. There were about 7 or 8 of us in her room all holding her hand, and we had food and drink. The X-Factor was playing in the background and it was a lovely, relaxed evening

It felt like a home from home

Elaine had her own photos all around her in her room so it was very personal to her. We had lots of laughs during our time at the hospice and it wasn’t all sadness. It wasn’t like being in hospital, it felt like a home from home, and I was so pleased Elaine was there.

My granddaughter Carrie was in denial about her Mum dying during her time there but even when a nurse took us into a side room and told us that there was nothing more they could do, apart from make sure Elaine was comfortable and control her pain, we were told in such a caring, gentle way. We were always looked after too.

The nurses made the last few hours of Elaine’s life so special

And her passing was as calm, peaceful and happy as it could be. We were all there with her, holding her hand and talking to her, it was a real family affair. We said, “Go and be with Daniel’, and I’m sure she knew we were there. When the time came, Elaine went slowly and quietly in her sleep, it was wonderful, there was nothing nasty about it. She didn’t suffer, she had the drugs she needed, and she wasn’t in pain – that’s all you can hope for

Once I realised Elaine had passed away, I said we “better go and get a nurse” but a voice piped up and said, “It’s all right, we’re already here.” The nurses were already in the room with us, but they didn’t intrude at all. We were able to stay with Elaine for as long as we wanted to, and I went home to my husband about 11pm that night.

If anybody has to go, St Catherine’s is the place you’d want them to be

Elaine had planned her funeral with Carrie, so she did all the arrangements.

Elaine asked everyone to wear bright colours, as she didn’t want any mourning and her coffin had red poppies on it. She’d organised everything right down to the songs and hundreds of people who knew her were there. We had a wonderful wake to celebrate her life

A short time afterwards we went to Beachy Head and put some of Elaine’s ashes into a rocket as she’d asked for some of her ashes to go in one. We all got covered in ash though! Elaine had also requested some of her ashes be put in the engine boiler of a Bluebell Railway train as she’d worked on the railway. They did a special journey for our family so we could do just that. We were given our own carriage together, and it was a really special moment.

Since then the hospice has continued to support us

Carrie has had counselling but I didn’t feel I needed it.

There’s been an awful lot of grief in our family, as we lost Terry a year and a bit after Elaine too. Now Carrie’s lost her Mum, Dad and brother, but she’s doing so well, working and studying for a psychology degree in mental health

On the anniversary of Elaine’s death, before coronavirus, we usually visited the hospice’s Quiet Room to write in the book there and we’ve hung a memory leaf on the tree in the hospice’s Quiet Room garden. I play the hospice lottery and have brought my Christmas cards from the hospice.

I’ll always have a soft spot for St Catherine’s.”

If you would like to read more people’s experiences of hospice care, see Our Stories section. To donate to us call 01293 447361, or make a donation online so we can help more families in the future.

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