Reflections Fifteen Years On...

It will be fifteen years this month since my father died, aged 62, at St. Michael’s Hospice. I have been reflecting on my life over this time, and the many things that have happened, in one way or another, had a significant impact for me. Many have been amazingly happy: my only son’s graduation, his marriage bringing a wonderful ‘daughter’ into our family and the love and laughter shared with friends and family. Of course, others have been very difficult, including the death of my husband, also at St. Michael’s Hospice in 2013.

jeff

What has been constant in my reflections over the last fifteen years, is the positive, treasured memories and experiences that we were able to share with my father because of the care and support we received from the team at St. Michael’s Hospice. My father was a fit and active man, and his cancer diagnosis was totally devastating for both my parents. As with many people, both my parents were initially resistant to engaging with the Hospice team. However, the sensitive and skilled support they received allayed their anxieties and quite literally gave them many months of good quality life, filled with fun and lots of laughter.

As a former nurse, I found myself, for the first time, being ‘on the other side’. On many occasions over the nine months of my father’s illness, I remembered the words of advice given to me as a brand new student by my first ward sister:

“...you should treat every patient as if they were your own mother or father. If you fail to do this then the quality of the care you are giving them will not be good enough…”

Watching how every person at the Hospice treated my father, from the very first time he met them, was truly inspirational. As with many people with a terminal diagnosis of cancer, his confidence was initially very fragile, however with the support from the team at the Hospice, he was able to make choices which meant he could enjoy the last few months of his life to the absolute best.

As a lifelong rugby fan, one highlight for him (alongside his several trips to France of course!) was being able to watch the 1999 Rugby World Cup with his usual enthusiasm and energy, including offering his usual level of advice for the referee and the England team… I think the only surprise for him was that the Hospice team didn’t actually manage to arrange for England to win the ‘99 World Cup!

The time that my father spent as an In-Patient at the Hospice was incredibly special, and today, fifteen years on, I have many absolutely clear memories of the care, compassion and humour we experienced as a family. It is often the little things that make all the difference, and there were so many of these that made his last few days of life so very special and positive. The memory of the Hospice chef popping his head around the bedroom door saying he’d heard my father was a ‘wine man’ and had popped a nice bottle in the fridge, for when he fancied a glass (or two!) was incredible, and really showed that everyone caring for him still saw him as the person he was, and not as 'just another patient'.

Thanks to the skill and expertise of the nursing team at the Hospice, I was able to be with my father when he died. He died as he had lived his last months: comfortable, pain-free and surrounded by people who cared for him as a whole person - a husband, a father, a grandfather and not just another patient. I know the whole experience of St. Michael’s Hospice was so important for all of us as we managed the emotions of our sadness and loss in the days, weeks and months after his death.

Everybody wants to live a happy, fulfilled and active life, but everyone deserves to have a good death. The whole team at St. Michael’s Hospice makes this a reality for everyone who has the good fortune to be supported by them at what will be the most difficult time in their lives. Fifteen years later, my appreciation of this amazing and special place and the people who work there continues to grow as I reflect on the positive memories they have enabled me to have at one of the most difficult times of my life.