Gemma’s Story

“Mam was happy at St Catherine’s”

“My Mam, Marilyn was amazing

I know everyone thinks their Mam is but she really was. Everyone had a kind word to say about her, and for me, my sister and our four older brothers, Mam was our entire world.

She was born to be a mother – She was the greatest mother, nana and great nana. She committed to each of us everything she had, and we still feel the full force of her love in everything we do. Mam positively impacted everyone she met, she was lovely, just really lovely.

She raised us right too. Mam did a degree in Environmental Science while I was at primary school so she could get a better job. When my brothers were a bit older, she moved with me and my sister down South as she had been offered a job. She worked at Crawley college supporting people with special needs, and she offered respite care too. Someone once described Mam as someone who ‘just gives and never takes’ and that summed her up. When I was pregnant, Mam knitted some of the children in my NCT group hats – She’d never even met the mums or the babies!

Up until the day before she died, she was still thinking of others

While we were sitting in the hospice with her, Mam made me and my sister transfer Easter money to each of her grandchildren. She needed to make sure they’d get their money before she went. I remember thinking ‘Mam, why are you worrying, you should be concentrating on you’, but she just wasn’t like that not even at the end. Always her children and grandchildren came first.

Mam never dated and was on her own for over 33 years. She was religious and her church, the Friary, was everything to her, and it was there that she met Richard. They started to spend more time with one another and fell madly in love. We always used to take the mickey out of them as they were like teenagers, always holding hands on the sofa, but Richard showed Mam what true love was. He’d send her flowers, take her to dinner, and took her to Canada – the only place Mam ever wanted to go too in her life. Richard embraced life with Mam, and I’m so glad she experienced a love like that. I am so glad that she is with him now.

It was Richard who was cared for by St Catherine’s first

When he was diagnosed with cancer of the gullet, Mam put her life on hold to care for him, but there was better news when he was given the all clear, and in 2018, we had a lovely, family Christmas together.

Shortly after Christmas though, Richard became unwell again and we discovered his cancer had spread. By March 2019, he had really deteriorated and he was taken to the hospice.

At the same time Mum suddenly got very unwell too

She was taken to East Surrey Hospital for an operation, and we all thought it was a blocked bowel as she’d had that before. Mam was in surgery for a while though, and when the doctor came out, he told me and my sister that they’d found a tumour during surgery and that there was nothing they could do.

We were told Richard had a couple of days left to live that very same day.

During that time, my sister and I were flitting between St Catherine’s visiting Richard and the hospital visiting Mam, but the nurses at the hospice were nothing but amazing. I remember it was kindness week at my son’s nursery during the time we were visiting the hospice, and the nurses engaged with us for my sons nursery task.

When Mam came out of intensive care in hospital, she was desperate to see Richard. Despite how unwell she was she had to get to him. Between the hospital and St Catherine’s, they arranged for Mam to go to the hospice to say goodbye. She was taken to St Catherine’s in her hospital bed, and wheeled in to see Richard, so she could say her goodbyes. I can’t explain how much that meant to us all

Richard passed away later that evening. Just 24 hours after losing the love of her life, Mam was told she had terminal cancer.

I was pregnant at the time and when she was told the news that she had terminal cancer, the first thing she said to the doctor was “I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got a granddaughter on the way”. She was the most selfless woman I have ever had the pleasure to meet, never mind get to call Mam.

Mam moved back in with my sister and her husband after she lost Richard

She had previously lived with them before moving in with Richard. Mam had a wonderful bond with our Dean, my sister’s husband. She would always say she had five sons, they really were the best of friends.

My sister cared for Mam when she started treatment and for a while the chemo worked really well for her. Mam was still doing well when I had my daughter, Esme, in September 2019. I named her after Mam as we called her ‘Granny Weatherwax’ after the character in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Mam used to have a witch like sense sometimes. She seemed to know certain things like the time she told me before Esme was born that she’d had a dream about a young girl with blonde hair and the biggest smile. I’m dark haired, but when Esme was born, she was blonde just like Mam had said – She predicted a few things like that hence the name Granny Weatherwax!

When she was feeling well, Mam visited St Catherine’s Living Well Centre

She was taken on a day trip as part of it, and she did art classes. During her time at the hospice she wrote a letter to Esme. We’ve not opened that yet, but I’ve got a print of her hands hanging on my wall.

All my siblings have received a piece of artwork that she did at the hospice, and for us, they’re invaluable pieces as they’re the last things she did

It was after Christmas 2019 that Mam started to become really unwell again

She was being sick all the time and my sister knew that she needed more support. Mam had always been clear that when the time came she didn’t want us caring for her at home, she wanted to be at St Catherine’s and in April 2020, Mam was admitted to the hospice.

The hospice gave my sister the chance to be a daughter again, not a carer, it gave her the chance to belly laugh with Mam and sit and talk and just be together without the worry for both of them

Mam ended up at the hospice in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic

So the hospice was adhering to strict guidelines, but they were incredible.

Even though the nurses and doctors were all risking their own lives, they gave Mam beautiful care, and still gave us the chance to be by her side

At first, me and my sister shared the visits, but at one point, the hospice thought she might have coronavirus so there were four days when we couldn’t visit her. That was really hard, knowing time was short, but the staff were always so accommodating and kept us all informed. As soon as Mam had a negative test result back, they let me and my sister visit that same day.

They also helped Mum do Zoom calls with all six of us, so she could talk to all her children at once, and my brothers, who live up North, could speak with her too

Mam got on particularly well with a couple of the nurses, and they’d have a laugh and joke. They honestly made everything as smooth, easy and comfortable as it could be.

During her time at the hospice Mam could only manage to eat ice lollies, but she was always offered anything she needed. She used to make me take in our own packets of ice lollies as she was so worried, she was eating everyone else’s lollies. Again, selfless to the end!

In the end Mam was in the hospice for two weeks

During that time, I asked Mam’s wishes and she told me she wanted a private Catholic funeral. There was a new priest at her Friary church who she wanted to meet as she ideally wanted him to do her funeral. The hospice were amazing and arrived for him to visit her. She got along well with him so told us she was happy for him to conduct her funeral.

It was a Saturday when I visited Mam and realised she was very poorly

She died that Monday. My brothers all came down from Newcastle and the staff at the hospice were wonderful.

There were quite a lot of us who needed to say our goodbyes to Mam – my Mam’s brother, my sister’s husband, Dean, who Mam had lived with for many years, my four brothers, my sister, my partner and my nephews and nieces.

Despite the pandemic, we were all able to say goodbye one by one. When Mam died, my brothers were waiting outside in the car park and a nurse went to speak to them out there. These sound like little things but they mattered so much to us. Even with everything that was happening in the world, there was the right level of support, the right level of communication, and the right level of understanding – The hospice gave that tenfold with both Mam and Richard

Mam was happy at St Catherine’s and she was ready to go – That’s all we could have wished for, for our wonderful Mam.

Unfortunately, we’ve still not been able to give her the private Catholic funeral she wished for yet, but as soon as we’re able to, we’ll be doing that for her and a memorial so more people can say their goodbyes.

We’re not going to ask for flowers but instead we’re going to ask for donations because in Mam and Richard’s memory, later this year, me and my brother-in-law, Dean, are running our first London Marathon

It’s our way of contributing to the hospice and saying thank you for the care you gave Richard and Mam.

Running has been like therapy for me

When Mam got sick, I started running and it helped me get through such a difficult time.

When me and Dean found out we’ve got a marathon place for St Catherine’s we both screamed with delight. Fundraising for the marathon has given us something positive to focus on in Mam and Richard’s memory, and all of our family are super excited. It’s something that’s really important to us all

We’re already fundraising and have plans to do auctions, to donate money from the company where I work, and to use some of our inheritance to make further donations too. The hospice deserves them.

Just after Mam died, my partner, Nicky, bought me a puppy, Carrot so I’ve been training with him. We’re hoping to raise at least £10,000 for the hospice and are already over halfway to our target.

Dean and I had always said we’d like to run a marathon but up until now we hadn’t found a cause that was close enough to our hearts.

If Mam knew about our challenge, I think she’d be dead proud of us and very happy. She donated to the hospice after Richard died as she was so happy with the care that was given to him, and it meant she chose to die there herself – That’s a really important decision

On marathon day, we know Mam and Richard will be with us watching us the whole time. Richard will be drinking his red wine, Mam who was teetotal, will be drinking her tea, and they’ll both be eating their beloved Bourbon biscuits!”

To hear more about Gemma and Dean’s marathon story, please watch the video below.

Interview with Gemma and Dean - London Marathon 2021

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