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Denise's Story

“The hospice gave us time to smile, laugh and talk of happier times”

“My husband, Phil was a quiet, sensitive man. He had a great sense of humour and would subtly show his personality by wearing statement ties or brightly coloured pyjamas.

Phil and I lived in the same area during our childhood and even went to the same primary school. We re-met as teenagers at a youth club and were married in 1968. It was a very happy, 45 years of marriage and we had two children, Alexander and Ben.

Our family had already been through the full experience of coping with cancer before Phil became ill. Our older son, Alexander, was diagnosed with cancer, and was treated at the Royal Marsden for two years before he died at 21 in 1996. Alexander faced his illness with such positivity – he guided us through that time and allowed us all to face his death together with courage and strength.

When Phil was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013 it was a terrible shock

There’d been nothing significantly awful that had indicated that news was coming when he went to A & E at East Surrey Hospital. There, we were told Phil’s diagnosis and prognosis which was to be sooner rather than later. The doctors told us time was short, but in the end, it was only two weeks between Phil’s diagnosis and his death.

After discovering the news, Phil wanted to return home, so we did. We were only home for two days before he was admitted to St Catherine’s via the hospital to help make him more comfortable. When we arrived at the hospice, I could physically see the huge relief in Phil’s body. At home he’d been greatly agitated but as soon as were at St Catherine’s, Phil became calm and I did too.

I remember someone pulling up a chair by Phil’s bed for me and as I sat in it, I felt totally comfortable. I started to relax knowing the hospice would care for him and that he was in safe hands

The atmosphere at St Catherine’s, the gentleness and the kindness, was so significant for all of us – me, our son Ben, and Phil. The hospice felt like a safety net and it was so reassuring for Ben and me to know that Phil would be as comfortable as he could possibly be.

Phil was at St Catherine’s for a week

And we felt totally at home during our time there. The hospice didn’t feel clinical, quite the opposite, it was a lovely, gentle, quiet environment – something that was so appreciated by us all. We were treated as a family unit, and the medical staff always knew when it was time to move Phil onto the next stage. They answered our questions truthfully, but sensitively, which was so important, and the nurses always took the time to ask Ben and me how we were feeling too. They took the time to listen to us and made us feel like we were the only ones that were important in that moment.

The hospice gave us time to smile, laugh and talk of happier times together

Although Phil’s diagnosis was so sudden, being at St Catherine’s wasn’t all doom and gloom.

We enjoyed having drinks from the drinks trolley together, visiting the gardens for a little respite and we had time to laugh, smile and talk of happier times. It was satisfying and profound

Even though it was chilly, we took Phil out into the hospice gardens in a wheelchair which he loved and we celebrated St George’s Day together the day before he died. I remember everyone was given a red rose. I stayed overnight at the hospice that evening too. I didn’t want to sleep but the nurses made me, and they were there to tell me to ‘come now’ when it was needed. I trusted them completely!

Phil derived a lot of courage from our son as he neared the end of his life

Alexander had always told us that everything would be okay and that gave Phil the strength to face his own end with humour, dignity and peace.

Phil died on 24 April 2013. When I saw him, he was dressed in his bright yellow pyjamas and nurses had placed a red rose between his hands – the same rose he’d been given for St George’s Day. That’s a lovely memory for me, even seven years on.

During his short time at the hospice, Phil made an impression on everyone he met. He became known for his brightly coloured pyjamas and his courage, humour and co-operation. In fact, I was in the garden centre once after Phil died, when a doctor came up to me and said, “Are you the wife of the man in the brightly coloured pyjamas?” I told her I was, and she told me that she’d been training at the hospice during Phil’s stay and that he’d been a lovely patient. I’m so glad she took the time to come over to me. It made my day to hear that remark, and it really meant something that Phil had made such a nice impression on the staff

We’d heard of the hospice before, and had occasionally supported them

But now, I support St Catherine’s by helping with gift wrapping every Christmas to help raise much needed funds. I even run gift wrapping workshops for other volunteers, and it’s lovely to do that in memory of Phil.

In the most difficult times of one’s life, St Catherine’s is there

It’s such a worthy cause that benefits local people, and I’d ask people reading to think carefully about what would happen if there wasn’t a local hospice around. Imagine how different things would be. Hospices are so stretched and receive minimal Government funding that they need every bit of money they can get.

I understand why some people don’t like thinking about hospices

I know a lot of people think hospices equal death, but they’re so much more than that. They equal reassurance, happiness, support, gentleness, kindness, understanding, and patience. Going to St Catherine’s is so much more than going in and watching someone you love die. The hospice supports you during the difficult times before death and afterwards too, through therapies and bereavement help. And although hospices are sad places, they can be happy places too

Even though we were only at St Catherine’s for a short time it was profound, and our lasting experience was one of calmness, gentleness and kindness. I’ll be forever grateful to the hospice for making the last week of Phil’s life so calm, and as lovely as it could be.”

 

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