Karen’s Story

“The hospice felt  like part of our family

When my dad, Peter, was diagnosed with a terminal illness on the 28 September 2019, he was adamant he didn’t want to go to the hospice. He told us he wanted to die at home.

Becoming ill was hard for Dad. He was very much an outdoors man, never spending much time indoors, and he worked hard. He worked seven days a week right up until his diagnosis. As he became less well, he felt like a caged animal having to spend more time indoors.

Our family tried to keep Dad at home like he wanted, but at the end of November 2019, Dad was admitted to St Catherine’s

It was a relief for me, my Mum, and my sister as it took the pressure off us – We were exhausted trying to look after him at home. Once Dad was settled at the hospice, he was relieved too. He was happier there as he knew we didn’t have as much pressure on us caring for him.

Earlier that year, before his own diagnosis, Dad had visited his friend at St Catherine’s and by chance, he ended up in the same bed that his friend had been. The nurses said he could move if it was a problem, but Dad joked that his friend had been keeping the bed warm for him! He always had quite a sense of humour.

The care and support the hospice gave us was amazing

In the three weeks we were there, the staff at the hospice felt like part of our family.

They’d always ask me, my Mum and sister ‘How are you?’ as well as asking Dad how he was, and if we weren’t at the hospice with Mum, we knew the nurses would look after her. My mum’s not usually much of a hugger, but when the hospice nurses hugged her she never pushed them away. It was touching knowing that they were thinking of her as well as Dad, and there to offer her support too.

The nurses cared for my Dad, like he was their Dad – like he was one of their own. He wasn’t just a person in a bed to them

We always enjoyed cake in the afternoons together

We got to know the staff in the hospice cafe quite well, and the chefs even baked cakes for our family on request. We’re a big family so there used to be about 8 or 10 of us visiting the hospice every day, and we always enjoyed cake in the afternoons together. We liked every single one, and we got to know to order our mac and cheese at 9am when we arrived too to make sure we got it!

Being at the hospice in the run up to Christmas was extremely hard, as it was a time of year we’d usually always get together. Dad used to enjoy going out into the hospice gardens though, and being a country man, he really enjoyed the therapy dog that came around the wards. He wasn’t as fond of the same carols being played on the piano in the lounge though, and we still don’t like Silent Night!

Dad had the best care he could have had

Dad died on Friday 13th December. The night he died all of our family were at the hospice. We sort of took over! Seven family members took up camp by the piano in the lounge and were given blankets and taken coffee throughout the night. We thought they might have to go home, but everyone was able to stay, and me, my Mum and sister were able to be by Dad’s bedside with him.

Nothing was ever too much trouble and Dad had the best care he could have had. We wouldn’t have been able to give him that same care at home.

We were all offered support afterwards 

My sister took it up, but so far, I’ve been okay – I think making memory bears out of Dad’s clothing has helped me.

When Dad died, his older great-grandchildren struggled with it. They were missing him, so I made them some memory bears out of his checked shirts and overalls. Now, they can have a cuddle with their Great-Granddad every night

Dad loved his checked shirts

He was known for them, but when I made the first bear and laid one of Dad’s shirts out on the table I couldn’t cut it. It was too emotional, but then Dad’s song (Memories by Maroon 5 which I’d picked for his funeral) came on the radio. My partner said that’s a sign that you can cut it – That gave me comfort.

As well as making bears for my grandchildren, I’ve got my own bear that sits in my front room and my Mum has one sat on her bed. At first, Mum wasn’t keen on the idea, but it’s helped her to see the benefit of the bears and the comfort they’ve brought our family members.

I’ve made one for my sister, and my Auntie now too out of a jumper she brought Dad. The strange thing is, family members have since found pictures of themselves with Dad wearing the exact shirts that their individual bears are made from. I made a bear for my daughter, and the shirt her bears’ made from is the same shirt Dad wore to her 18th birthday. It wasn’t deliberate but coincidence.

As more people have heard about my bears, I’ve received orders from friends who’ve lost loved ones. I’ve sold about 30 bears so far, and for each one, I donate £5 back to the hospice.

I’ve made about £150 for St Catherine’s so far

I’ve started branching out now. I’ve made bears out of new baby clothes, with the baby’s name and the year of their birth on, and out of school uniforms for children who have left school. Doing this has given me something positive to focus on during lockdown.

I’ve made cushion covers from loved one’s clothing, and I’ve even made dinosaurs and unicorns. Someone’s recently asked me to make a fish, in memory of someone who was a fisherman, and someone else has asked me to make a bear out of their wedding dress. Today, I’m making three memory bears out of bridesmaid dresses. I’ll give anything a try!

I love knowing the comfort that comes from my homemade items

When a stranger ordered a bear recently she shared a video of her Mum opening it. It made me burst into tears. It’s quite special to think I’m giving people back a piece of the person they love

I enjoy making the bears, and I think Dad would be quite honoured to know his shirts are being used to make something so special for his family. He was quite arty and crafty, and clever with his hands. He liked the things I used to make, so I think he’d like this, and be chuffed that we’re raising money for the hospice.

I like to think doing this keeps Dad with me

Since he’s died, a robin has appeared in my garden too. I go and put food down first thing in the morning and the robin immediately appears. I say it’s Dad coming down for his breakfast. Where I live backs onto woodland, and we’d also heard there were deer that sometimes appeared. We’d never seen any deer before, but on the day of Dad’s funeral, a deer appeared at the bottom of our garden – We joked it was Dad come back as a deer. It’s things like that which keep me going.”

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