“My dad was in the hospice six to seven weeks before he died. He was 74 and had been working fulltime – as a ceramic tiler – up until a few months before. He loved work and was a real craftsman. He was a joker, a singer, larger than any definition of life you could imagine, just the most entertaining man you could meet. But from being a strong man to being sick and in pain was traumatic and sudden. He went into hospital and the pain wasn’t controlled, his pain was complex and morphine had no effect.
We were all anxious about going into a hospice but immediately the level of care and the attention from doctors and nurses made him feel safe and that relieved us.
We experienced St Chistopher’s as a really positive place and they treated his pain as a priority. The other thing that helped with his pain was the alternative therapies, like reflexology and music. He used to say to us that doing these would make the pain float away. Whatever people think, that was his reality and we were blessed that he felt that way.
We are a big family (I’m one of six) and one of the last things we did was have a huge family party with about twenty family and friends in the Dame Cicely Saunders Room. We tucked into a three-course meal – a roast! – with drink as well – staff really encouraged Dad to have a drink and enjoy himself. For him it was a fantastic thing to be able to host that dinner for the family. Dad also sang to us to that night as well. He loved singing, rock‘n’roll and soul music. He liked the Stylistics and the BeeGees. He sang ‘Always and Forever’ by Heatwave at my sisters’ weddings. He would take the grandchildren into the Anniversary Centre and if there was a pianist, he couldn’t help but get up and sing a few tunes. Even in the last days when he felt bad and said he wouldn’t sing, it only took a few strums of the guitar by the music therapist to bring out the old songs.
Every morning he’d have ‘the full Monty’, a cooked English breakfast. The staff made sure that nothing was too much trouble for him. Even at the end, when he couldn’t walk, they would take the bed out into the garden so that he could feel the sun on his face. There was compassion and dignity at all times. He wanted family and people in general not to be frightened of the hospice and our experience of it was as a very positive place.
When we heard about the Fun Walk Dad was still in the hospice and urged us all to take part as a ‘thank you’ for everything they were doing for us.
So twenty of us, dressed up as Power Rangers and Mad Hatters, laced up and took on the challenge. It was a really great way of us giving back to the hospice and giving us all a sense of purpose – we didn’t feel powerless as we were out there raising money and awareness for this great cause. When we went back to Dad’s room and showed him our medals he was so proud and urged us to keep fundraising – so we have!
We’ll be taking part in the Fun Walk again this year and hope you’ll join us. The route actually takes us past Dad’s old house and, obviously that was sad the last time we did the walk, but then we looked up and saw this huge stream of people passing by, laughing, happy, inspired people, all wanting to do their bit for the hospice and knew he would be so proud. With something so joyful, why wouldn’t you join in?”
The Fun Walk is on 14 May – please join us