"I knew they were looking after him as if he was their own Dad"
Laura, Daughter of former Mayor of Colchester Martin Hunt, shares how she felt St Helena staff looked after her Dad as they would their own…
Before my Dad was diagnosed with oesophageal and stomach cancer in September 2015, I had of course heard of hospices but I had little personal experience of one. So I definitely had a preconception in my mind about what it would be like and what it would involve.
And the truth is, it is so much more positive and peaceful, supportive and loving than I would have thought and not what I would ever have imagined. My personal journey with my Dad changed my perception of hospices forever.
Pulled into Dorothy’s tornado
Because Dad’s diagnosis was such a shock and everything happened so quickly, our cancer experience was like being pulled into Dorothy’s tornado; you’re just pulled into this ‘cancer thing’ that you have no experience of, and you’re just spun in this tornado, with your life as you knew it turned upside down, clinging on for dear life.
The main thing that happened when St Helena became involved, is that for the first time in the whole experience we stopped spinning. I cannot describe the relief we all felt when we finally got to stop spinning, even for a moment.
‘Safe’ is the perfect word. The hospice gave me an incredible peace of mind. I could actually go home and finally get some sleep because I knew the people who were looking after him, were looking after him as if he was their own Dad. That is an extraordinary gift to be given; to know they are caring for him as they would their own relative.
My Dad was my person
My Dad was a wonderful person. He was really funny and really, really kind. He was Mayor of Colchester in 2000; he was a serving elected Councillor for well over 40 years; he was leader of Colchester Borough Council; he was Deputy Leader; he served on every board, pretty much, in Colchester! He was immensely proud to be awarded an Honorary Alderman in November 2011, and unfortunately couldn’t go to the acceptance ceremony, so I collected it for him. He was always wanting to help other people, that was who he was. He went into politics genuinely to make a difference to people. I am so immensely proud of him.
He was an amazing Dad, hugely supportive, always loving. We were very close. His affection and his devotion to me, my Mum and my Sister; that is such a gift in your life to carry with you. He was 'my' person.
I guess the thing is, he wasn’t just my Dad, he was my friend. The role St Helena played in understanding and respecting that was absolutely vital in our journey as a family. Going to The Hospice was the first time I met people who had actually heard me. Dad was treated with love, treated with kindness - and so was I. They came up with solutions to best fit the situation we were all in together to help us on that journey. You just can’t put a price on that.
For me, he was officially the best Daddy in the world. He really was. He was such a joy of a Father. I often say to my female friends whose Dads weren’t around, I wish I could have shared him because he was such a perfect Dad. I was really so lucky. I knew it at the time; but don’t get me wrong, I could be a bit of a nightmare like all Daughters! My Mum said we so enjoyed each other, we enjoyed each other’s company. The connection I had with my Dad was very beautiful. It required no input or effort on my part at all. He really was ‘my person’ from the get-go. He doted on his girls; me, my Mum, my twin Sister, and my Niece. He so loved being a Grandpa, it was so gorgeous, I’m so glad he got to do that because he was such a wonderful Grandpa; as we all knew he would be.
At 37, my hospice journey is one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had with people that started off as strangers but became friends.
This is 100% how I feel about St Helena, so to be able to do something to help is a gift to me. I knew I wanted to do something pretty much from the moment we arrived. I wanted to add value somewhere, and no one wants to see me limp up a mountain! I am a professional singer, and I’m really lucky to be able sing in many different disciplines. So as a singer I thought it would be a really lovely idea to record an album inspired by my Dad, with proceeds going to St Helena. I don’t know what the title will be yet but it will be a collection of songs he loved. He loved music - was a big Matt Munro fan - and he loved my singing, of course! My love for music is very much a gift from both my parents, so hopefully it will be a nice, very personal and hopefully uplifting, album of songs he loved that people might like to listen to. So we shall see!
The things that makes you stop spinning
My Dad had stomach and oesophageal cancer and so when you are nursing someone who can’t eat at all the majority of the time it’s very difficult to get square meals yourself, especially when you are with them all the time because you don’t want to torment them by eating in front of them. Also, you are all over the place and probably not very hungry, so self-care is very difficult when you are caring for a relative. It’s really tough, but it’s so important. So when I went to The Hospice, especially when I was with Dad in the evening, I would get a couple of square meals a week. They would cook me something beautiful in the kitchen and it would be amazing, not something out of a vending machine or out of a packet, it would be real food. And it’s things like that when you are in the tornado, that’s the stuff that makes you stop spinning. To be able to sit down for ten minutes and have a lovingly prepared meal, made just for you by someone really kind – that’s everything.
He needed to be allowed to be angry or upset or frightened or any of the emotions he felt.
I felt so held by St Helena, so supported. I was always listened to, no questions were off limits. You don’t feel you’re not allowed to be a certain way, or not allowed to speak. You’re always encouraged to be yourself, feel and express your feelings, and to be honest. Dad could do the same thing which is immensely important. He needed to be allowed to be angry or upset or frightened or any of the emotions he felt. So could I.
Love and support
The nursing and medical staff are just extraordinary. I don’t know how they do it, they just have every ounce of my admiration and respect. Dad was constantly looked after with a level of devotion I’ve never witnessed before. You feel supported, not just because you are supported, but also that your relative is in exactly the same position. That’s just so important.
If I could sum up The Hospice, I would say love and support. The atmosphere is one of love, understanding and kindness - and joy in small things. Not anything I would have expected. Not sad, not depressing, definitely not downbeat. It’s the opposite; it’s a place of peace and love and safety.
My Father died at The Hospice which I will forever be unbelievably grateful for. He was allowed to die with dignity and with love, and the minimum amount of pain that they could afford. The comfort he was in is something you just cannot put a price on.
He got his wish because of St Helena
The night before he died I was here [at The Hospice] with him alone, and the nurses cared for me as much as they cared for him. That experience for me as a Daughter was extraordinary profound. My lovely Dad was there when I entered the world and I was there when he left. To have people who were so expert at what they do - absolutely supportive and in no way obstructive to the experience you are having - is just a skill to me which is mind blowing.
That night I was hugged, I was looked after, I was cared for as much as him. I am incredibly grateful I got to be with my Dad and my Dad got to die in the way he wanted. The fact that my Dad’s last three or four hours at the very end were spent surrounded with love - by me, my Mum and my Sister - is something I will be grateful for, for the rest of my life.
He got to die the way that he wanted, with dignity and surrounded by his family because of St Helena. The peace that brought me in my grief and my recovery from my experience is just immeasurable. The Hospice didn’t just help my Dad, they helped my whole family.
I wrote to his two favourite nurses after he died, to tell them the difference they made to him, to us, to me as a person. I’ll never be able to thank them enough.
We were so lucky to experience The Hospice because it is so under resourced and I know the experiences we would have had in different scenarios based on our unique journey would not have been remotely the same, or as right for us as a family.
I don’t think I can ever adequately convey what it means to me that he died the way he wanted. I shall always carry with me that the last portion of his life was spent with love, care and respect.
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