Living Life, Dying Well

No-one ever truly believes that “it” – the bad stuff in life – will really ever happen to them. Every time you hear of someone else’s misfortune or sad news, be that a diagnosis of cancer or some other life-changing experience, you will offer sympathy, practical help and support with the underlying relief that this time at least, it isn’t happening to you or someone you love.

In December 2012, six days after our only son’s wedding and totally without warning, “it” happened to us. John, my husband, a fit, active 56-year old man, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and was given only two to three months to live.

Happily, he managed to stretch these odds and died five months later in May 2013. Although there were of course some very difficult times, our journey over those five months after his diagnosis was probably one of the most positive and inspirational times of our lives.

Generally when people think of a hospice they think of it firstly as a building, and secondly somewhere where people go to die. What St. Michael’s Hospice offers is so much more than this. After the first visit at home from one of the team, where so many of John's questions were answered, and his fears about dying were openly and honestly discussed, my husband said, “So I can sit here and wait to die – OR – we can go out and do things and enjoy the time we have left” ........which we did! 

We managed to squeeze into those five months: three trips to France, five trips to Wales (John was Welsh!), many day trips including a tour of the Morgan Car Factory, and numerous lunches with friends and family. We had so much fun and laughter and we were able to add many more happy memories to our already pretty full stock.

John did die in the Hospice which was what he wanted, but this was just a very small part of what the funding for St. Michael’s Hospice provides. The Hospice team were there with us every step of the way - they helped to build our confidence and courage to not only face the future but to really enjoy the time we had together. Offering practical help with wheelchairs and other equipment, giving us guidance over medication whilst all the time working with us, supporting our decisions to ensure that John was able to live his life to the absolute maximum quality for as long as possible. They say it is the small things that really make the biggest difference, and one of the things that John quite literally felt was ‘life saving’ came when, in desperation one Friday afternoon, I called the Hospice to ask if anyone could syringe his ears. When I was told "That’s fine, come in, we can do it", we both cried. He was so distressed by both ears being blocked that he actually felt he wanted to ‘throw in the towel’. This was in February and we went on to enjoy several more trips to France and Wales and many more lunches in the weeks ahead!

Everybody wants to live a happy and fulfilled life – but everyone deserves to have a good death. St. Michael’s Hospice, through everything that they do to support their patients, carers, families, friends and, equally importantly, each other, helps to make this a reality for real people like you and me, every day of each year.