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30th July 2018

Time to be a family

“We’ll look after him but we’re also going to look after you,” were the words met with huge relief by Toby Freeman on arrival at the hospice.

After watching his 24 year old big brother Robin go from being fit and healthy to living with a rare cancer in less than a year, Toby and his family could now make every memory matter. Toby shares his story…
Rob and Toby

 

He was there for nine days. That’s the nine days I remember. I don’t remember Rob being ill. He didn’t seem ill at the hospice, he seemed more alive than he had done the entire 10 months previous. There was no pressure, no more horrifically hard treatment or constant bad news.

Rob made the decision he would like to be at the hospice, to be close to those who could help him and put less pressure on mum.

The hospice allowed us to have a period of saying goodbye and putting good memories together. We had some amazing experiences. We went out and about, we weren’t stuck in the hospice.

Rob and my eldest brother Adam went out to see a final metal concert and they had the best time! Adam was wheeling him around and Rob wasn’t in pain - that was their memory and it was absolutely brilliant. We also had a really nice family day out at the zoo where Rob had a zookeeper experience, and we had one last family-photo shoot together. The whole point was the hospice could help us do these things.

Rob and my eldest brother Adam went out to see a final metal concert and they had the best time! Adam was wheeling him around and Rob wasn’t in pain - that was their memory and it was absolutely brilliant. We also had a really nice family day out at the zoo where Rob had a zookeeper experience, and we had one last family-photo shoot together. The whole point was the hospice could help us do these things.

At the hospice we could watch our DVDs, play our video games, reminisce, swear, do whatever we needed to do, even have a cry if we needed to. I could still be Rob’s brother; we could still joke around. We felt we were in a place where we could be us again without the pressures of illness and having treatment and looking after him and worrying about his care.

"It was absolutely life changing... to not feel that constant heart-breaking grief."

Someone was always there to do the care for us so we could just be a family. They allowed us that freedom to be a family, spend time with Rob and get our last memories in. Unfortunately, time just kept getting shorter and shorter and shorter. Rob went until he couldn’t anymore.

After Rob’s death, and with encouragement from my now wife, I called up St Helena’s bereavement team. At first I was sceptical, I didn’t know anything about any of this stuff, about counselling or therapy.

My first session I went and I sat in a room and I just cried. And I cried and I cried and I think I cried for about an hour. And then I went back the next week and I cried a bit less and did a bit more talking. And by the 6th week, we were talking. It was just sitting in a room with a stranger, someone completely objective, someone who wasn’t going to judge me.

For me it was absolutely life changing, to not feel that constant stress, that constant anger, that constant heart-breaking grief. I still feel it, I still struggle on the ‘big’ occasions like birthdays or the anniversary of his death – and even during the ‘small’ things, like during football transfer season. It’s always there but the bereavement support really helped kick start my life around the grief. I take it with me rather than it being my entire world, with me just trying to follow on behind it.

We’re all going to die, so let’s really talk about death. Let’s talk about death and taxes and all the things that are important to all of us. 

Toby Freeman joined Josh Wilkins, St Helena community clinical nurse specialist, for an open and frank conversation about grief and the importance of talking about dying and death

This story may not be published elsewhere without express permission from St Helena Hospice.

 

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