“St Catherine’s provided just the support we needed”
When Jan’s Dad, Derek, was diagnosed with a terminal illness at the start of the first lockdown last year, it was a very difficult time and lockdown made things even harder
“Dad received the news that he had advanced lung cancer by phone on 9 April 2020,” recalls Jan. “The news came from a consultant he’d never even met, and we were offered no follow-up or support after his diagnosis. I’m not knocking the NHS – I’m a huge supporter of it. I work within it for a GP surgery myself, but we felt abandoned and lockdown made everything to do with Dad’s illness a difficult and traumatic process.
Unfortunately, Dad’s health deteriorated quickly, and he was taken to hospital by ambulance at least four times – we weren’t able to be with him because of COVID. My brother moved in with Mum and Dad to help my Mum care for Dad at home, but things were really difficult.
Our family desperately needed help and support, but we didn’t know what to do”
That was when Jan looked on the St Catherine’s Hospice website
She explains, “I wasn’t sure how referrals worked although I knew of St Catherine’s, but after reading some of the patient stories online, we asked the GP for a referral to the hospice.”
St Catherine’s soon got in touch to find out how they could help support Derek and his family
“At first, St Catherine’s were giving my Mum and brother support by phone. That helped as we knew they were there day or night. They helped sort out Dad’s medication and gave us tips on how to care for him at home. They were angels – looking after not only him, but us as well”
Two weeks before Derek died, he started to fall at home
“My brother heard him fall out of bed in the middle of the night,” recalls Jan. “It’d got to the stage that Dad didn’t know where he was anymore. It was pitiful to see him like that as he’d always been so intelligent and switched on.”
Hospice nurses were already in telephone contact to provide practical support, but after Derek’s latest fall, the family decided more help was needed, so St Catherine’s arranged for a nurse to visit
Jan remembers that visit vividly.
“My Mum told me how a nurse went in to visit Dad, who was in bed, in full PPE. She knelt down by the side of his bed and took hold of his hand. She said, “You’ve been feeling a bit poorly haven’t you?” and gently suggested that perhaps Dad might like to go into the hospice. He said yes. Up until that point he’d always been resistant about going to the hospice, but the nurse was so kind and gentle with him”
The family were told they would have to wait for a bed to become available, but the next day they got a call telling them a bed was ready. Derek was taken to St Catherine’s on 1 June. He stayed there for two weeks before he passed away
“Dad going into the hospice was an immense relief for us all as a family – it saved us,” explains Jan. “The hospice saved our sanity as it’d been so difficult for us struggling on alone caring for Dad, not knowing how he’d die or how it’d be for him.
The way Dad became ill and was diagnosed was so cruel because of lockdown. In many ways it felt like he was snatched away from us, but as soon as he was at St Catherine’s we knew he’d be looked after and that we would be as well”
Before her Dad went into the hospice Jan says she’d heard St Catherine’s was a “lovely place”, but she didn’t know what to expect when she first visited her Dad there
“Everyone was so kind and welcoming. Smiling receptionists asked how we were and the volunteers who gave us our PPE and took our temperatures each time we visited Dad became like friends. We’d always have a chat and they always asked how Dad was.”
The hospice had a “homely atmosphere in lots of ways” remembers Jan. “In his room we took in photos, he had his iPod to play his music, and lots of personal bits and pieces. It felt an uplifting place – safe almost. We knew Dad was going to be looked after. The whole hospice was calm and peaceful, not at all morbid or depressing”
As well as caring for her Dad, the nurses always asked Jan, her Mum and brother if they needed anything
“They’d ask us how we were coping,” says Jan. “We felt like we were in a bubble being cared for and we didn’t need to worry about anything anymore. That was so comforting.”
It was especially comforting for Jan who hadn’t been able to see her Dad through lockdown because of her work in a doctor’s surgery
“There were no vaccines during that first lockdown and I was at higher risk of getting COVID as I was still working at the GP surgery so I wasn’t allowed to see my Dad.
I was so scared he’d die without me saying goodbye to him”
Jan describes the two weeks Derek was in the hospice as “so precious”
“When Dad went into the hospice it was my chance to see him every day. To sit with him, hold his hands, help feed him, and listen to his music together. I hadn’t been able to do that for three months so those last two weeks with him were so precious. The hospice gave me my Dad back for those two weeks. I don’t know what I would have done without that”
The hospice also allowed the family to have a break and be together, and Jan even has lovely memories of the day her Dad died
“Dad died on a Monday – the 15 June. We’d been taking turns to sit with him, but it was a beautiful summers day. At 1pm the nurses served my Mum, brother and me a wonderful lunch in the hospice gardens. We hadn’t even asked for it, but the nurses told us they’d sit with Dad while we ate it.
The garden was so tranquil and peaceful. We sat out there listening to the birds, chatting, and eating lunch together for about 45 minutes. We could focus on being a family knowing Dad was being looked after in lovely surroundings
His room looked out onto the garden, and I like to think he was looking out onto the sky. That day was awful because we lost Dad, but even then, I still have lovely memories. The hospice really did make Dad’s death the best they could for us. They made the unbearable a little more bearable.”
It was around 4 o’clock when Derek passed away
“The nurses told us to take as long as we needed afterwards,” says Jan. “We did, and when we were ready to leave, all of the nurses who’d cared for Dad stood at the end of the corridor to pass on their commiserations and check we were okay before we left. They didn’t have to do that, but it was so nice, like a committee of people who’d cared for Dad.”
Derek was a very popular man but as Jan explains,
“He was very humble so I don’t think he realised just how popular he was. Dad had a quiet intelligence. He was very funny and witty and was always laughing. I couldn’t have asked for a better Dad. He was just lovely to be around and I’m just so proud of him
We, as his family, meant the world to him and he loved being with all of us. He was also heavily involved in Southgate Bowls Club for more than 30 years. His death has left a big, big hole. He was loved by so many people and so many people miss him.”
Coronavirus meant Jan and her family had to hold a scaled down funeral for Derek, but they went past his bowls club with the hearse
“There were so many people out on the grass verge, many of them wearing their bowls clothes,” remembers Jan. “They clapped as we went past. Dad wouldn’t have believed so many people would come out for him, but he would have been so chuffed.”
Shortly after her Dad’s funeral Jan’s Mum became very unwell
“She was unable to walk and was in hospital for months,” explains Jan.
“It was a really tough time with Mum being so ill so soon after losing Dad. When we got to the end of last year, I didn’t feel like I’d grieved for Dad – I honestly hadn’t had the time. I wasn’t coping very well so Mum gently suggested I consider counselling”
Jan admits she didn’t think she’d ever be the sort of person who’d need counselling
“I’m a coper, I’m the one who looks after everyone else, but having counselling has changed my mindset. I spoke with Liz, who was just brilliant and the most wonderful counsellor from November to January this year
Without speaking with her I don’t think I’d be able to sit and talk to you about Dad like I am now, but it’s important I do this, and it feels like the right time. The way Dad became ill and was diagnosed was so cruel, but this is like in death his legacy is doing something good.”
Jan describes the hospice’s support as a “shining light”
“From the day Dad went in there, it was just like being enveloped in a hug,” says Jan. “The hospice saved us. I don’t know what we would have done without them, and I thank god every day that they were there. Not only did they save us, they did it a second time with my counselling”
That’s why Jan thinks it’s so important people support the local charity
“Every penny someone can give makes such a huge difference to patients’ lives and their families. You never know when you or your family may need a hospice. None of us know what’s around the corner, but St Catherine’s saved my family – they were amazing.”