Despite having never been to a hospice before, she knew her mum was going to be cared for in a relaxed and homely environment. Charlotte shares her story…
My mum was very frail and had been ill for a long time, particularly for most of 2020. In August she got taken to hospital for a couple of months and we knew she wasn’t going to get better. Her consultant said they were going to get palliative care involved and they would contact us.
That happened the next day. They said they had a place for my mum and they took her to the Hospice on the Tuesday, so she had five complete days there and died there on 11th October.
It was a mixed bag of feelings because we were planning for her to come home from hospital and we were arranging for the house to be adapted. Mum knew if she came home she would be confined to a bed and have to have carers. She reached a point when she said she just wanted to die. She had given up.
So when they said about moving her to the Hospice we were delighted because she wanted to be with the angels that are working within the Hospice. Those people are life’s angels, there aren’t many people you meet like that, they’re selfless people.
In the Hospice everything is personal. In the Hospice it was do you want a cup of tea? They brushed her hair, they washed her, and even when she went into a coma, they still washed her, they still put a fresh nightdress on her. The way they used to wash mum and change her nightdress and brush her hair and make sure there was cleanliness; the Hospice instilled dignity in the end and I think that’s really important.
For the last two nights of my mum’s life, my dad slept next to her at the Hospice. That was such a kind thing. He didn’t just sleep in a chair, they gave him a bed.
Mum and dad (pictured together) had been married 57 years so for them to sleep next to each other… he held her hand all night and that was really lovely. It was so personal and that was what was so nice. I’d like to think if I’m going to go, I would like to go to that hospice or another hospice because they are so comfortable.
When you reach end of life you don’t know if it’s going to be 10 o’clock in the morning or 10 o’clock at night, so he never left her from the moment she went into the Hospice. The doctor from the Hospice phoned up and said she hadn’t got weeks to live, she’d got days, and said you can have three of you by the bedside.
Because of the Covid restrictions at that time, I couldn’t usually go there at the same time as my dad so I went in the day and went home and then my dad could go in and stay the night. It was quite hard because for those five days she didn’t speak, she was just laying there and it’s not nice to see somebody like that, but I truly believe she could hear us.
We were totally appreciative and respectful of the Covid restrictions; we didn’t walk about the Hospice, we wore our masks and our gowns and our gloves, and did what we were supposed to do. We ate in the room. Those nurses were so lovely and they were coming into the room all the time to check on us. I drink tea forever and there were cups of tea, cups of tea, kindness. The kindness!
The food was wonderful and that’s really important, and this is something that surprised me. Although my mum didn’t eat a lot in there, she said the food was lovely, but even from the family point of view of being fed so we didn’t have to worry about cooking.
For the first few days she was very much aware of where she was. She was talking to the staff and saying how lovely it was. Obviously one can’t be happy in that situation because you know you are dying, you know that, so it’s not like you are on holiday, but if you are going for respite or rehabilitation of some description, what a wonderful place to be. Her room overlooked the garden; we opened all the doors, all the windows, it was beautiful. I know if the circumstances had been different, she could have gone out in the garden. The room was beautiful and so clean! Dad had lovely showers there and they gave him fluffy towels.
I talked to most people at the Hospice and everybody there was really friendly, really hospitable, very kind. You can tell there’s a certain type of person because it doesn’t matter how rubbish your life might be, you’ve got to stay on an even keel for those people in there; you can’t have people in there who are going to be moody or snappy. The kitchen staff were lovely, the volunteer receptionists were lovely, everyone was lovely.
We wanted mum to go to the Hospice purely from the fact that it was so personal. The food was wonderful. From the moment you walk in the door, even with covid restrictions. You have to comply with them, everyone in the country knows what’s going on, so we knew what the procedure was.
I had never been to a hospice before so we really did go in very blind but we came away from there blown away. You’re not a statistic, you are made to feel as an individual.
I’ve got a cat and I really love animals and one day all of a sudden we saw this pretty little cat at the window. I went into the garden and was stoking him, not aware that the cat lived there, but the doctor came to talk to me and he let the cat in and said it lives there, and then told us the story of Paddy the cat. From my point of view, I think it is very healthy to have an animal around because stroking, touching, purring… animals are just pure love. I love the story that a local company pays for its food and its vet bills and its looked after. What a life! I loved that cat, he is adorable.
And we saw robins in the garden. I think that’s nice, the nature in the garden. We saw squirrels and all things bobbing about, and the birds singing is all lovely. It’s very calming.
On the Sunday my brother visited and as he said he was going to start heading off, a dark butterfly flew into the room. It flew all round mum, all round dad, all round my brother, all round me. I said to dad that is symbolic of an angel, mum’s going to die today. It flew all around us and then it flew out of the window. And mum died that evening.
Dad was eating his soup next to her and he looked up and he noticed she had just stopped breathing. Dad ate his soup and she just decided to ‘slip out of the room’.
People always say sorry for your loss, I mean you’re not going to be jumping for joy but all I can say is it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. At the Hospice they’re very calm people in the tone in which they speak to you. Then they said they would contact us the next day and they did and we went and met Kelly, senior clinical support worker. We went into the beautiful drawing room and she made us a cup of tea and went through the practicalities of the next stages, but she was very efficient, very kind and a really lovely lady. She was very compassionate but took control of the situation because you can imagine people are going through a range of emotions but she was very pragmatic.
Mum had just turned 81 so she had a good 80 years, she had a good life, a fortunate life. Dad says that’s because she married the right man! It’s the circle of life.
We are eternally grateful for everything that everybody at St Helena Hospice did for mum and us. I hope it continues in the way that we experienced because if they can give that happiness to others like they did to us, then it’s all worthwhile.
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