"Hospices are places to gently reflect, be cared for, and hopefully ease the inevitable for yourself and your family."
Sheila was cared for on our Inpatient Unit and was so touched by the kindness of our staff and volunteers that she wrote this beautiful letter.
"The day I was transferred from hospital to Ashgate Hospicecare was grey, wet and windy. As I walked through the doors I started to cry. The first thing that happened was a total stranger came and sat next to me and asked if I wanted a hand to hold. It was such a small gesture, but it was so powerful. That is Ashgate. It holds your hand. In fact, for me it put its arms around me and hugged me.
I was put in a room with a view of flowers and a bird feeder. And the next day, when my son and partner came to visit, both said it was the first time in weeks they had seen anything like a smile on my face.
I know my time is limited, and sad things will happen here at the hospice, but it is not a sad place. It emanates calm, quiet happiness for simple things, and acts of tenderness from staff and volunteers. If you need to talk, they will talk. If you need quiet, that is there too.
Places like Ashgate Hospicecare are precious and the wider community must be made aware of this. They need support, and any sort of funding that you can give, however small, will help to keep hospices alive.
Hospices are not places to come to die, although I hope that is what I will be able to do. I can think of no gentler departure. Hospices are places to gently reflect, be cared for, and hopefully ease the inevitable for yourself and your family.
Look after the hospices, like Ashgate Hospicecare, in this country. No one can tell you how special they are until you need them. Please don’t lose them. They need all the recognition they can get.”
“I was with my partner, Jackie for 38 years. She wasn't just mine, she was the world's really. We had a great time together and everybody tells me now how quiet things are without her here.”
“When Jackie was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), I had to come to terms with the fact that she would be the one to die first. I just didn’t expect her to die so soon. Five years went by with us trying to cope and her gradually getting worse, and then she had a stroke in 2012 and that’s when things really changed."
"In 2014, Jackie had to retire due to ill health, however we continued to make the best of life and we would go on many trips and have friends over. In August 2016, Jackie was admitted to hospital with stomach pains and released with pain relief. Then in December 2016, Jackie went back into hospital with a chronic chest infection. By now her energy levels were seriously low. She was discharged and had support from a physiotherapist. She fought on working towards rehabilitation.
Jackie’s twin sister died in October 2016 and then she had to deal with her father’s death at the end of January 2017. After returning home from the funeral, which she had helped organize, she was exhausted. A week later, the rest of her body began to let her down. Her liver started releasing toxins which caused her to be confused and which compromised mobility. Jackie ended up going back into hospital in March 2017. Her brain was not telling her when she was thirsty or hungry and, even though she initially agreed to tube feeding, this was abandoned after the third attempt. At this point, Jackie was assessed at the hospital and that was when we were told that she had only four to five weeks left to live.
Everything changed when we were introduced to Chris, a palliative care nurse from Ashgate Hospicecare, who was based at the hospital at the time. From then on, we were gold plated! Jackie had a personal advocate in Chris, who could offer her palliative care expertise to ensure that Jackie was getting everything she needed whilst in hospital. Chris helped to support Jackie in coming to terms with what was happening to her physically and emotionally, while keeping me going too.
After a discussion with Chris and Jackie’s GP, it was decided that Jackie should be placed on the waiting list to be admitted to the ward at Ashgate Hospicecare. Her medication needed changing so often that they decided being at the hospice where she could be monitored 24/7 would be the best thing for her. In her usual selfless way, Jackie said, ‘I don’t want you to have to look after me. I'm going to the hospice.’ We knew people who had been cared for here and so Jackie knew that it was a wonderful place. Jackie wasn’t afraid of dying, she was just worried about the rest of us - especially me. A bed was available at the end of March 2017 and Chris did all she could to make the transfer as smooth as possible.
Jackie’s condition had progressed and by now and she was no longer able to make decisions. Nonetheless, the staff discussed all the options with me fully and always treated me as an equal in doing so. I told them the ‘Jacqueline Waring way of doing things’ and they completely respected her wishes. This was a pleasant change from some of the care environments Jackie had been in before. It was important to both of us that her wishes were listened to and I always felt in a partnership with the hospice in that respect.
During the time Jackie was on the ward, the staff were considerate in leaving us to spend time together, while always being on hand to offer the prompt nursing support that Jackie needed to keep her safe and comfortable.
Jackie started to sleep more, but she still needed a lot of medical attention. Every member of staff was coming up with different ideas to help make her as comfortable as possible. If she was wriggling around, they came in and would try to settle her. It was reassuring to know that she was very safe here. I don’t think we could have achieved that at home.
As the week progressed, Jackie became weaker. However, the staff kept me informed about what was going on and how her death would be managed. They made sure they all knew Jackie’s end of life wishes.
Jackie died very peacefully at 5.45am on 7th April 2017. They weren’t expecting her to die so quickly and I was at home when they phoned me to tell me what had happened. I raced to the hospice and arrived at about 7:20am. The first thing I noticed when I walked in to see Jackie was how tidy her room was. We’d had all sorts of issues with Jackie not staying put on her bed and so it had looked quite a mess in the end. But they rearranged everything and made the whole space look very nice and peaceful. It didn’t look medical at all.
I was with Jackie for 38 years; we met in our twenties. She was a stubborn and bossy woman with a very big personality, but she was a terribly caring person towards me and everyone around her. The amount of times people have come up to me and told me things about Jackie or written to me since she died has made me realise that she wasn't just mine, she was the world's really. She touched so many people. We had a great time together and everybody tells me now how quiet things are without her here.
The lead up to Jackie’s death was a roller coaster for us and, whilst naturally I wish it had never happened, I am pleased that Jackie died where she did and that all her needs were dealt with right to the end. Even though Jackie died much more quickly than I’d expected, I wouldn’t have wanted her to go on how she was, and I know that she certainly wouldn’t have liked it. The hospice ensured she had the best possible quality of life right up until the end and I’ll be eternally grateful for that.”
“After my partner, Jackie, died on the ward at Ashgate Hospicecare, I didn't take up the immediate offer of counselling because I was so well supported by ‘Team Sarah’, as I call them! These are a group of my and Jackie’s mutual friends who were there for me through it all. Jackie had told them to look after me and nobody says no to Jackie!
Jackie and I were quite different, but we complemented each other well. Even when Jackie was really ill, she was an emotional comfort to me and I was to her. And lovely as ‘Team Sarah’ are, in the end, my friends couldn't fulfil all my emotional needs and I became emotionally worn out. That’s when I realised that I needed bereavement support from the hospice. Even though it was well over a year after Jackie died, the Supportive Care Team at the hospice were still happy to offer me support.
I also decided to become a volunteer for the hospice. I do bucket collections and help wherever I can, at events and so on, and I've met a lot of lovely people. Not only that, it’s a comfort to me volunteering for the hospice as it was something that Jackie and I were going to do together when we retired. We were supporters of the hospice even before it opened over 30 years ago and we always wanted to help.
When I was assessed by the Supportive Care Team, they decided that a drop-in support group might be the best thing for me. It had just started up at the time. The counsellor, Liz, was able to give each of us a little bit of one-to-one time and see if we needed formal counselling. There were only three people there when I first started going and we were at different stages of our journey, but it was nice to chat to each other and hear what other people were going through.
Liz was very welcoming and said that I could keep coming to the group as long as I wanted to. I still attend most weeks now as it’s good to have that space to talk about how we feel. It’s a place where I know that I can go and exhibit my fragility, and where I can have the counselling insights of Liz too.
One thing it’s helped me to realise is that grief doesn’t always get better over time and that it’s very normal to still have days when I feel very fragile, and not to worry about feeling like that time spent chatting to Liz and the other attendees over a nice cup of coffee does the trick. We do different activities and have a lot of fun too.
I’ve met some really interesting people there and struck up friendships with some of them. It’s provided a forum where people don’t feel like they’re on their own. I’m very lucky that I have a very active social life, which is bolstered by volunteering too, but I can see how important the group is for some people socially.
What I have learned on this journey is how important it is to be able to talk about death and to not make it a taboo subject. It's going to happen to all of us. You can't say you're ever ready, but I was prepared both by Jackie and by the staff at the hospice. Jackie and I didn't always see eye to eye; we rowed, we argued, and we irritated each other immensely at times! But at the end of the day, there was nothing we left unsaid. I shall be forever grateful to Ashgate Hospicecare for all they did for Jackie and for all they continue to do for me.”
“Ashgate Hospicecare is a cheerful place, not the sad place I thought it would be. The happy times didn't stop when mum came through the hospice doors.”
“Mum was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the beginning of February 2019. Mum took this news very gracefully, but I was distraught. She had looked after her mum when she was dying and she didn’t want that burden passing onto us. She made it very clear from the start that, if it came to it, she wouldn’t mind being cared for by Ashgate Hospicecare. I was less convinced."
"I was terrified. I thought hospices were quiet, serious medical places. I came with her on that first day and I was so upset walking through those doors, no matter how much mum was telling me not to get upset. All I kept thinking was, ‘Mum is never going to leave here’.
As I spent more time on the ward, however, my opinion of the hospice changed. I saw families come and go on the ward as patients were sent home. I could hear laughing and joking coming from other rooms and I didn't expect that at all. It was a cheerful place, not the sad place I thought it would be.
Something that will always stick with me is, the day after mum arrived at the hospice she said, ‘I feel so much better now I'm out the hospital. It's so relaxed here, I feel better already.’ And for a few weeks she was a lot better in herself. It was lovely to see. Mum loved her time on the ward. Although she was very ill and couldn’t eat or drink, every single staff member took the time to get to know her and find out what she liked. They offered mum a lolly just to taste, which was really thoughtful. Mum thought it was like a hotel with room service! Even the housekeepers and the kitchen staff would pop their head round the door and say hello. Everybody was so kind.
The staff let mum do things at her pace. For example, in the mornings they’d ask if she wanted to have a wash and get dressed and if she just wanted to chill out in her pyjamas for a while, then they’d come back and wash her later. They’d say, ‘Just press your buzzer when you want us, Glenice’. Nothing was too much trouble. Having the buzzer meant that she felt safe even when we weren’t there. And when I wasn’t staying at the hospice, I could call the nurses anytime and ask questions if I was worried about mum.
Mum loved watching the birds from her room, especially two pheasants that kept reappearing. She named them George and Mildred and she used to watch out for them walking past her room every day! We had so many laughs about them! The first time she spotted them, one landed on the tiny bird table outside her room and it started to tip over with the weight of the bird. I heard mum burst out laughing which was so lovely as I hadn’t heard her laugh in a long time. It brightened her day watching the different birds come and go, and it gave her something to take her mind off how she was feeling. I’ll cherish those memories of the two of us watching the birds together.
Mum loved to be pampered and she especially loved it when the complementary therapists would come and give her reflexology in her room. It always relaxed her and it also helped with her breathing. She loved the reflexology so much that each day she would be watching the corridor and waiting for the therapist to arrive!
Another lovely memory I have is of when my son graduated from medical school and we celebrated at the hospice with champagne. Mum couldn’t drink anything, but she was able to taste the champagne on a sponge. That was just three days before she died; we were still making special memories.
We liked to spend time in the café where we could have lunch and take a break. The staff even put sandwiches aside for us in the Family Room, so that we could have those at night. In a normal situation, this may seem like just a small thing, but for us, it meant the difference between driving around Chesterfield late at night trying to find food and spending precious time with mum.
I felt so welcome at the hospice. The staff even looked out for me arriving each day to say good morning to me. If they were making any changes to mum’s medication, they’d always try to find me or another family member to talk it though with them first, so we always knew what was going on. I felt very involved in everything and I really value that.
Mum was able to maintain her dignity right up to the end. I would go and spend time in the Family Room whenever the nurses took her to the toilet or gave her a wash. That was just nicer for her.
I can't fault the care at all. The staff would always check on me as well as mum because they knew I was staying up in Chesterfield on my own. I live down South, so my immediate family were really far away. But the staff helped me to feel less alone and made things less scary. When my sons came up, and when my daughter came from Australia, we were able to use the Family Bedroom here. This meant that we could all spend more time making memories with mum in her final days. It made a huge difference to us.
Thanks to the staff at the hospice, mum was able to pass away peacefully on Easter Sunday, 21st April 2019, holding my hand and her sister’s hand whilst the other family members were close by. We had such great support during those last few days and, for the following weeks, the counselling service checked on me to see how I was coping.
Now, if other family members were in my mum's position, I wouldn’t think twice about them coming to a hospice. In fact, I’d tell people not to worry because having the hospice’s support took so much pressure off me and off our family. It was the worst thing I’ve ever been through, but Ashgate made it so much easier and helped me not to feel alone.
It was all the little things that changed my mind about hospice care. It’s not just a place where people come to die, as I had thought, it’s a place where people carry on living until that time comes. Mum was still laughing and joking right up until the end. The happy times didn't stop when mum came through the hospice doors.”
“All I wanted was for mum to die knowing that she’d met her granddaughter which was her biggest wish and Ashgate Hospicecare enabled us to do that.”
“When my mum became ill with lung cancer in July 2016, it was a really stressful time for me. Only weeks after mum told me that she was terminal, I found out I was pregnant with my second child and had another little girl to look after who had only just turned two years old at the time. This meant that I couldn't care for mum myself, even though I had always promised her I would. My brother was caring for her at home, but he wasn’t very well either. This meant that I was constantly worried about mum and felt guilty that she wasn’t getting the care she deserved. It broke my heart to see this and I felt completely hopeless."
"Mum began to be seen at home each week by an Ashgate Hospicecare Support Worker, and she loved her visits. More than anything, mum really needed someone to talk to and share her worries with. They spoke about everything and I think, for those three hours that the Support Worker came out, mum was able to forget that she was dying.
In January 2017, my brother had to go into hospital and, although he didn't end up staying there, it was decided that mum should come and live with me for a couple of weeks. Mum’s illness was progressing and she also caught a chest infection so it was getting really difficult to care for her. I was worried that we weren’t giving mum the care she needed. We spoke to her GP again and, fortunately, she was able to come onto the ward at the hospice.
As soon as mum came onto the ward, I could see that the care was excellent and I knew I wouldn’t need to worry about her so long as she was here. I can’t overstate how much of a relief this was for me. Knowing that mum was getting excellent care 24 hours a day was absolutely invaluable, especially as I was heavily pregnant by this time.
The plan was always for mum to be on the ward for a couple of weeks just to build her strength back up and then she would go back home. In the end, however, she never left. Every time the doctors and nurses got her well enough to leave, she suddenly went downhill again.
Nonetheless, the hospice staff and volunteers were amazing. They made mum feel good about herself and she was always treated as an individual, with her needs taken into account. She was always listened to. Her needs were always met no matter what time of day or night it was.
At the hospice, mum was able to have a proper bath, which was a big deal for her. You can't put a price on care like that and I don't know anywhere else that would be able to do that for her.
Every time I came into the hospice, the staff and the volunteers were always happy to see me and it made me feel really welcome there. It made dying feel normal, rather than something to be feared or apprehensive about. The staff always had time for me and always asked if I was okay. They watched me grow through the last trimester of my pregnancy and they were always asking about the baby.
If I needed to know how mum was doing, I could ring the hospice anytime and they’d let me know. Mum and I could both trust the doctors and nurses and we got to know the staff well whilst we were there, which meant that we felt comfortable speaking with them about everything. I'll always remember the way the staff and volunteers treated me and supported me through such a difficult time, as well as what they did for my mum.
We could all see that mum was desperately holding out to meet her second granddaughter. It was the only thing keeping her going. It was a Wednesday morning on 4th May 2017, and the hospice called me to say that they were struggling to wake my mum up and that she wasn't being responsive. We all rushed to the hospice to be with her, but I had started having painful contractions so before long I had to go to the hospital.
All I kept thinking throughout all of this was that I needed to get back to the hospice as soon as possible so that mum could meet the baby. It was a stressful birth and the baby was tiny; only five pounds and five ounces, so the nurses wanted to keep us in hospital. I explained to them that my mum was dying at the hospice and asked if I could leave for a few hours. They said they would discharge me and the baby for an hour or two on the proviso that I came straight back.
When I went into mum’s room, I could see that she didn’t have long left. I placed the baby in her arms and the look on her face was as if to say, now the baby's here, that's me done. But she held her granddaughter for about 10 or 15 minutes and that was perfect for me. She couldn't hold her properly, so I put the baby in her lap and she stroked her face with her finger. She placed her hand onto the baby’s chest and, even if I do it now, it still settles her. It’s like grandma’s special touch.
Mum told me that she loved me and I told her that I loved her. We were both really upset to say goodbye to each other. Mum died on the Friday 6th May 2017, just days after her granddaughter was born. All I wanted was for mum to die knowing that she’d met her granddaughter which was her biggest wish and the hospice enabled us to do that.
I will always be eternally grateful for the care mum received. There isn't a word that's been thought of yet to express how grateful I am! It just took so much weight off me knowing that she was being so well cared for. Everybody needs to realise that Ashgate Hospicecare is a place you can come to, no matter who you are or what kind of situation you’re facing and it’s a place where you’ll be welcomed.”
“I wasn't dealing very well with mum’s death. It's hard losing somebody you love, but when you've just given birth you go from an immense high to the worst low, it's an emotional rollercoaster. I had no idea how to deal with it because I felt guilty for feeling elated about the birth and I’d also just lost someone who meant the world to me. It was very confusing emotionally and I think to an extent it stopped me bonding with my daughter as I should have done. I couldn't feel that pure love for her because my heart was broken by the death of my mum.
I felt empty and broken and I just didn't know what to do. I couldn't focus on anything. Nothing made sense. I didn't want to go on antidepressants and rely on medication as I wanted to be present and feel like me for my two girls. I felt completely on my own.
I ended up ringing mum’s Palliative Care Nurse at Ashgate Hospicecare, as I was totally lost and I knew she’d be able to point me in the right direction. She referred me to the Supportive Care Team at the hospice and before long a Social Worker called Julie came out to see me.
Luckily, I’d already met Julie a few times whilst my mum was ill, so when she came round it just felt normal and natural. She knew about me and she knew everything I’d been through, so I didn’t have to explain myself at such a hard time. Just knowing I was important to somebody was all I needed. When everything felt like it was against me, she helped me to feel like I mattered.
I had finished the sessions with Julie when, ten months to the day that my mum died at the hospice, my brother died suddenly. I had no idea what to do. I felt totally lost again as it was such a shock. I phoned Julie up again and, because we’d built up such a great relationship and she knew how difficult things were for me, she told me straight away that she could help. I was so relieved that she was able to support me through my brother’s death because I felt completely lost again after receiving the news and Julie really understood my situation.
Even though I received bereavement support from Ashgate Hospicecare after my mum died, they didn’t just forget about me. You can’t put a time limit on grief. Even now, I don’t feel like I’ve grieved for my mum properly as there’s been so much else going on, but I know I still have Julie to call if I feel like it’s all getting too much for me.
I didn't think I was strong to go through all of this by myself, but, with the support of Ashgate Hospicecare and having my children to think about and with the stubbornness I’ve inherited from my mum, I’ve managed it. I’m eternally grateful to the hospice for looking after my mum so well and for all they’ve done for me, but I know that there will be other people who will need those services just as much or even more than me. It’s vitally important that as a community we do what we can to support Ashgate Hospicecare so that they can continue to provide bereavement support to everyone who needs it.”
"My mum was so well cared-for and loved in her final months thanks to Ashgate Hospicecare.”
"My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and received the all-clear after treatment. But in June 2018, we heard that the cancer had, sadly, returned and she was given just six more months to live."
"Support from Ashgate Hospicecare came in seamlessly after her diagnosis and mum began attending the Day Hospice every Friday where she saw doctors, nurses and physiotherapists, as well as socialised with other people in a similar situation to her. I had never been to a Day Hospice before, so, driving up from London where I work to visit her there, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was worried it was either going to be depressing or one of those places where everyone gets forced to participate in ‘fun’ activities whether they liked it or not.
But it wasn’t like that at all. There were so many things to do, from complementary therapies like massages to talking to chaplains or just taking a break from being at home and having tea and biscuits brought to you. With me working far away, I often worried about mum being at home by herself, so when she came into the Day Hospice, I didn’t need to worry as I knew she was being well looked after.
It wasn’t just mum who received support from the hospice, they also supported me, both practically and emotionally. The staff helped me to deal with the situation and took away a lot of the fear for me. I can’t imagine how I would have coped without them.
The doctors at the Day Hospice monitored mum’s condition weekly and supported her by adjusting her medication. Meanwhile, the occupational therapists helped make living at home easier for mum by ensuring she had access to items such as a special mattress. One day, the doctor saw my mum was looking worse when she came to the Day Hospice and immediately admitted her to the ward where she stayed for over a week in order to stabilise her condition.
Towards the end, a community nurse from the hospice came to visit mum at home and, realising that her condition had deteriorated, ensured she was admitted to hospital for emergency treatment, after which she began her final stay on the ward at the hospice. It was such a relief to know that the hospice nurses were keeping such a close eye on mum. They would always take the time to assess her properly and intervene when they could see that she had declined in order to keep her as comfortable and dignified as possible. Being so far away in London, it was difficult for me to always be there for mum at these crucial times and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get her to hospital when she needed to go. That’s why having the ongoing support of the hospice meant so much to me.
Before my mum’s diagnosis, I didn’t fully understand what hospices did. I assumed that they were just places where people went in their final weeks of life. What I discovered was that they are warm and positive places where people eventually end their lives as comfortably as possible. Most importantly, my mum was rarely alone. So many friends and family whom we’d lost contact with got back in touch and they were able to visit mum any time at the hospice in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. My mum was so well cared-for and loved in her final months thanks to Ashgate Hospicecare.”
“Ashgate Hospicecare made something awful and heartbreaking that little bit easier with their kindness and compassion shown to my grandad and all our family.”
"Our story began on the 4th November 2015. I had to take my grandad to the doctors about his blood test results. They sent us straight up to the hospital as his haemoglobin levels were dangerously low and he needed an immediate blood transfusion."
"Two days later, after further investigations, grandad came home with a diagnosis of bowel cancer and had been given 12 months to live. We were all distraught, but hopeful, as he was a strong man and we knew that he would put up a good fight. Grandad always lived life to the full and loved all his family with all his heart, especially his great grandkids. He wasn't ready to go anywhere yet!
Two weeks after grandad returned home from the hospital, he took ill overnight and had to go back into hospital where he spent a further two weeks.
Grandad never complained about anything, not once. However, we could see he was in pain and was struggling. Grandad was referred from the hospital to the ward at Ashgate Hospicecare, so they could try to get his pain under control. Grandad’s wish was to return home again and the staff said they would do what they could to make this possible. This was an eye-opener for me as I had always thought that the hospice was just a place where people went to die.
When we first came into the hospice, I was surprised at how relaxed it was. We were able to visit grandad every day and spend as much time with him as we liked. The staff made our whole family feel very welcome. My daughter was able to visit her great grandad anytime, which was really important for her as they were really close. She spent a lot of time with him and even celebrated her seventh birthday here with him.
The staff always had time for grandad and if he asked for anything, which he rarely did, he would be listened to. Nothing was too much trouble.
When we thought his pain was under control, the staff at the hospice helped to get him home to my dad's house. The Occupational Therapy team made sure that everything was set up for grandad to stay at my dad’s house comfortably. They even made sure there was jelly and ice cream in the house, as grandad had really enjoyed eating that at the hospice!
Grandad was home for two nights, but he was in too much pain and couldn’t get settled, so he went back into the hospice. We were hoping that we could get him feeling well enough to go home again, as we knew that’s where he wanted to be.
The team at Ashgate Hospicecare helped to get his pain back under reasonable control. Christmas was approaching and grandad was getting weaker, so we asked if we could throw a little party for him on Christmas Day. The staff said yes, of course! My nana was with him throughout Christmas Eve and, on Christmas Day, they ate a lovely homemade Christmas dinner together at the hospice.
We all arrived on Boxing Day and put on a small buffet in the family room. Grandad put all his effort into that day; singing and dancing along with the kids! I’ll remember it forever, as will everybody else in the family. It was a really special day and grandad had a great time.
After that, he started to decline. He was moved from one of the bays into a private room and we could all be there with him. We wanted to spend as much time as possible with grandad in his last few days and we really didn’t want to leave him. They gave us the relatives room so that my nana could stay every night and my sister and my mum took it turns to sleep there too. Mum, dad and I slept in the same room as grandad, on camp beds and recliners that the hospice provided. The staff were brilliant and they even brought us breakfast in the mornings! I couldn’t fault the care at all.
Grandad only woke up once after going in that room, but he kept going until the 30th of December. During his last moments, my sister said, ‘Goodnight, God bless’ to him, as he always used to say this to us. Then he went to the angels, surrounded by all of us.
We could never have imagined how awful something like this could be, but the hospice made something awful and heartbreaking that little bit easier with their kindness and compassion shown to my grandad and all our family. We will never forget what Ashgate Hospicecare did for him and we met some lovely people along the way. I will be forever grateful!”
Liz and Chris’s Story
“Knowing that we could phone Ashgate seven days a week and ask for support was like having a safety net beneath us.”
"My dad was diagnosed with skin cancer in January 2016, and we were told he had two years to live. It all started when my mum noticed that the mole on his back that he'd had for years had started to get bigger. She kept telling him to go to the doctors and he kept saying he’d go but kept putting it off. The mole kept on growing and changing shape."
"When he was finally seen, he was referred to the hospital where he had a scan. The scan revealed that he had cancer in the skin near his kidney and there were another two growths underneath his skin. They cut the piece of skin out and tested it and found he'd got cancerous cells all the way up to the margins of the piece of skin. He was referred to an oncologist and then had six weeks of radiotherapy on the area around where they’d taken the skin.
After the radiotherapy, he went back for another scan, hoping for the all clear. However, they found more cancerous cells in his skin right at the edge of where they did the radiotherapy. So, they cut some more skin. Again, when he was tested they found more cancer cells. It went on like this for several months until they found that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes in his right armpit. By this time, he had oncology, plastic surgery and dermatology involved and my mum and dad had one appointment after another. It took over their lives. It got to the point where we asked whether my dad needed all of this or whether it was more important for him just to get some rest.
A scan then showed that the cancer had spread to his brain and they told us there was nothing else they could do to try and make him better. We went home and tried to settle ourselves; we tried to get our heads around the fact that losing dad would come sooner than we thought. We were in shock because that wasn't how this was meant to go. We thought we had more time to enjoy with him and more time to say goodbye.
A referral was put through to Ashgate Hospicecare around April 2017 and my dad started to be seen regularly at home by Sharon, a specialist nurse. When she first came to see him, his attitude was, “I don't know what you're doing here, I'm not dying”. And Sharon said, “The hospice isn’t just for people who are dying, the hospice is for those who need support. That's why you’ve been referred to us. I can come out to your home anytime you need me, whether that’s once a week or once a month, and I can give you and your family whatever support you need. You don't have to come into the hospice if you don’t want to.” He was scared of the hospice and didn’t like to talk about it, so Sharon said that if he ever did want to come and look around, just to see it, she could arrange it. We hoped he’d eventually say yes and then it might dispel some of his fears about it.
It was great to have Sharon as a point of contact for both me and mum and we felt very well supported having her there to ask any questions to. Gradually, dad also became comfortable with her. He was able to build up a relationship with Sharon over the year or so that she was supporting him. He also had a Palliative Care Support Worker from the hospice who came to sit with him once a week so that my mum could have a break or nip out and do things she needed to do.
From the time he was given a terminal diagnosis, mum and I felt it was really important to try and talk to dad about where he wanted to be when he got more ill and what his wishes were for the kind of care he wanted to receive. We wanted to make sure that if anything happened, his wishes would be respected and he’d be in the place he felt most comfortable. It was hard because my dad really didn’t want to admit what was happening, let alone talk about it. However, having Sharon there to back us up and to facilitate some of those conversations gently and with understanding was really important. She had a rapport with him by that time so she could nudge the conversation in that direction without getting told off – unlike us! Sharon had a very good way of judging dad’s comfort zone, so she only spoke to him about things when she could see that he was ready.
He was still having treatment in hospital to reduce the cancer, which was tiring for both him and mum. He started having immunotherapy in June. I wanted the hospital to do as much as they could for him, but at times I just want them to leave him alone. The cancer was aggressive, and I wasn’t sure how much the treatment was going to help. Sharon understood that. She understood the balance between keeping dad going and making sure he had a good quality of life. It was nice having another medical person outside of the family to talk to him about that.
When Sharon visited, she helped him with his medication. She referred him to the occupational therapists at the hospice who came round to measure the house so they were ready to deliver whatever equipment he needed. They gave my mum a baby monitor, so she could hear if dad was making any noise in the night, which gave her peace of mind. Sharon told us that we could call the seven day a week Advice Line, which we had to do one Saturday. A specialist nurse even phoned us back on the Sunday to check everything was ok, which was a really nice surprise. Knowing that we could phone Ashgate seven days a week and ask for support was like having a safety net beneath us.
Sharon was good at liaising with the different services. So, instead of us getting stressed because we needed to phone dad’s doctors at the different hospitals and his GP when his condition changed or when he needed more medication, Sharon could sort it out and that took a real weight off our shoulders.
Sharon had been able to convince dad to try the Day Hospice, which he really liked, although I don’t think he wanted to admit it! This meant that, not long before he died, he said he preferred to die at home but wouldn’t mind going into the hospice if that was the only option. All the times Sharon had seen him and spoken to him had really helped him come to terms with what was happening and had helped him to warm him up to the hospice. In the end, fortunately, he was able to stay at home right to the end.
I’m a nurse and there were times at home when I could see dad struggling and all I wanted to do was give him the dose of medicine I knew he needed. I explained my frustrations to Sharon and she authorised me to give dad a specific amount of pain relief if he needed it, but only if I felt OK to do so. That was great because instead of watching him in pain when we were waiting for the district nurses to arrive, I could give him some pain relief.
Dad died on the morning of Sunday 8th April 2018. We wanted what everybody else wants; for my dad to have a peaceful death and to not be in pain. Thanks to Ashgate Hospicecare, dad had as ‘good’ a death as he could have and we’re really grateful for that.
After dad died, we got a call from Sharon asking how we were doing and if we needed any more support. My mum and my eldest daughter were already seeing counsellors at the hospice before dad died which carried on after his death. My mum has also been to group bereavement sessions and continues to meet with people from that group, which I think really helps. So, even though we’re no longer getting medical help from the hospice, we feel really well supported by them in terms of all the bereavement support we’ve had and been offered. We’re going to continue coming to the Ashgate Hospicecare events and supporting the hospice as much as we can."
“I went from somebody who didn’t even want to think about the word ‘hospice’, to someone who now wants to raise as much money as possible for Ashgate Hospicecare.”
“My husband, Glyn, was a fireman. However, he had a bike injury and suffered head trauma and then epilepsy, so he retired out of sickness aged 50 in 2015. That summer, we went to Florida with the kids, we went on a cruise and we had more big plans for Glyn’s retirement."
Just after Christmas that year, Glyn was in and out of the hospital with pain in his stomach. He was never one to complain, even when he had all the head trauma, so I knew it was bad. One day, he phoned me up from hospital and said, ‘Come in, I want to talk to you.’ I was worried about what he was going to say, but I had no idea what was to come. When I arrived he said, ‘I’ve got cancer.’ I just screamed, ‘ WHAT!?’ I couldn’t believe it.
When I told our daughter the news, she was distraught, but together we felt prepared to deal with it. We would do whatever we could to help Glyn – husband and father – get better and get through it.
After the results came back from Glyn’s tests, the doctor sat us down and said that Glyn had pancreatic and liver cancer. I didn’t know fully what that meant for Glyn, but I didn’t want to know. However, Glyn was very practical and wanted to know how bad is was. He asked the doctor how long he had left. That was not a question that I wanted to hear the answer to. The doctor said, ‘You’ve got months’. Hearing that and knowing that Glyn wasn’t going to get better turned my whole world upside down.
After that, I was a wreck. We’d been married 29 years and we were a very close family. We had a beautiful son and daughter who were in their twenties. Although Glyn was getting more ill, he acted fine about it. He didn’t want us to worry and so he was still making jokes and being silly all the time – being his usual self!
The first contact we had with Ashgate Hospicecare was in the hospital when a nurse came in to speak to us. As soon as I saw her, I panicked. I wasn’t ready to think about Glyn dying. I was distraught and so I asked her if she could come back to speak to us another day.
When a nurse came over the second time, she explained that Ashgate Hospicecare is not only a place where people die, she told us that patients can go to receive specialist care and there’s a Day Hospice too. Both of these options would help Glyn to manage the pain. They made us feel a lot better about the hospice, but I was still scared about losing Glyn.
We managed to keep Glyn at home for a while, but he was in and out of hospital. By the middle of February, his belly had blown up with fluid and he was in more pain. We rang the hospital and they said they’d have a chat with Ashgate Hospicecare to see if he could go onto their ward and drain some of the fluid. They had a free bed, so they told us to bring Glyn down. Although I was still nervous about going inside the hospice, the staff were always positive and did everything they could to help Glyn. They made us feel really welcome.
The hospice nurses helped us to start those difficult conversations about where Glyn wanted to be as he got more ill and when he dies. They eased us into these conversations so it didn’t seem as scary. I spoke to Glyn about having him at home so that I could take care of him, but he didn’t think it was fair on me. After initially being quite scared of the hospice, we’d started to warm up to the idea of Glyn being there at the end of his life. I just wanted what was best for him.
They managed to drain fluid from Glyn’s belly in the hospice and a few days later he was able to come home. However, he was still having stomach pain, so we tried to see if we could get him back into the hospice. Before long, they called back saying there was a bed free. We brought Glyn in and once he’d settled in, he told me I should go home and get some sleep as I was exhausted. I went home, but a few hours later, I got a phone call from one of the nurses on the ward telling me that Glyn really wasn’t very well and that I needed to come back in so I rushed back to the hospice to see him.
It was clear that things had changed and Glyn was now struggling a lot. He was in a bay, but the staff told us that as soon as a private room became available, they’d move him. It was so much better for us once they moved him to his own room.
On the Friday morning, Glyn kept drifting in and out of sleep. He seemed to change quite suddenly and we knew he didn’t have long left. From then on, I didn’t leave Glyn’s side. With Glyn now in his own room, the nurses put up a bed right next to him so that I could stay with him. I sat and held his hand and we mostly just watched telly together. I would still talk to him, even though he was asleep for most of the time.
I rang up the minister from our old church to let him know that Glyn was dying and he asked if he could come up to the hospice and pray for Glyn. Glyn was a bit distressed by that time, but when the minister came to pray with him, Glyn suddenly calmed down. It was incredible how calm he looked and it was lovely to see. I thought it was really nice that we were able to do that at the hospice.
By the Sunday, Glyn was getting worse. So, I called the family and they all came up to the Hospice. There were about 12 of us there altogether, but the staff didn’t mind at all and we were all made to feel welcome. Some of them had come from quite far away, so the staff said we could use the relative’s bedroom to stay in, which had its own shower. This meant that we could all spend precious time with Glyn in those last few days and hours.
Whilst everyone was there with Glyn, I took a walk down to the Family Room. As I was walking down the corridor, I could smell chicken and could hear people giggling. I thought, Glyn is here dying and I can hear giggling, what on Earth is going on?!
When I got to the Family Room, my daughter, my son, my son-in-law, and my god-daughter were there playing games and eating food. It was actually really nice to hear them laughing. Just because we were in the hospice, we didn’t feel like we had to be miserable the whole time. The Family Room gave us the much-needed space to have a break and relax after spending time with Glyn.
The nurses were lovely to us during Glyn’s final days. They kept coming to talk to us and they would come and sit with me and chat to Glyn, even though he was sleeping most of the time. We could see he was struggling, but they gave him as much pain medication as they could.
I said to him, ‘You can go, if you want to go’ and he was rubbing my hand the whole time. But it felt like he was waiting for something and we couldn't figure what it was. The kids said, ‘Mum, you know on Monday it’ll be 29th February. He'll wait for the leap year day!’ Glyn was such a joker and I knew he would do that!
By the Sunday night the 28th February 2016, I could feel that he was going to go. I told the family to leave him and go and have some kip. His mum and dad went to the relative’s bedroom to have a sleep and my son went too. It was just me and my daughter there with Glyn. We waited, and at twenty past twelve on the leap year Monday, he died.
It was such an awful experience finding out my beloved husband and best friend only had a few months left to live, but I’m glad that he was able to be cared for by Ashgate Hospicecare. It was a really horrible and scary time, but the staff did all they could to make us feel better and to make Glyn’s death dignified.
I went from somebody who didn’t even want to think about the word ‘hospice’, to someone who now wants to raise as much money as possible for Ashgate Hospicecare because they made those last few months of Glyn’s life so much better for the both of us.”
“I found out my husband, Glyn, had pancreatic and liver cancer in early 2016 and had only a few months to live. We received help from the Hospice and then, on the leap year day in February 2016, he died on the ward. Myself, our children and the rest of our family were really well supported throughout this time and could spend as much time with Glyn as we wanted. I went from being someone who was very scared of the word ‘hospice’ to experiencing first-hand the care and dedication of all the staff at Ashgate Hospicecare.
Glyn was a fireman and after he retired he became a school governor at a local primary school. He was very well loved by everybody in the community - there were nearly 500 people at his funeral! We had the full fire service send off and collected donations for the Hospice.
Everybody wanted to help me sort things out and do everything for me after Glyn died; from organising Glyn’s funeral to all the paperwork. I was really grateful for all this help, but I was left thinking, what do I do now? I was grieving for the loss of my husband of 29 years and best friend and I had nothing to keep me busy.
After a few weeks, I had a call from a counsellor at the Ashgate Hospicecare asking if I wanted bereavement support and, feeling as lost as I was, I said yes, hoping she could help me. When we first met, I told her how I was feeling and explained my situation. She was excellent. She listened to everything I was saying, and she really understood and helped me to process what I was going through.
I wasn’t working, but I had a been doing a voluntary role for about three years setting up a library in the primary school where Glyn was a governor. After he died, I went back, but it didn’t feel right. People didn’t really know how to talk to me about his death. By April, a few months after Glyn died, I decided I couldn’t stay there any longer and left.
At the same time, I was thinking back to how lovely all the staff at the Ashgate Hospicecare were when Glyn was ill, and I was wondering how I could possibly pay back their kindness and care. We took a lot of donations at the funeral and so I decided to set myself the goal of raising the amount it had cost for Glyn to receive care at the hospice.
In July 2017, we did the Sparkle Night Walk for the first time in Glyn’s memory. We had a huge team – 45 of us! – and we had t-shirts made with our team name ‘Wookie’ on, because that was Glyn’s nickname at the fire station. We also had Wookie balloons made so we could find each other on the walk!
A few months before Sparkle, I was asked to go on a school trip and whilst I was there I badly broke my foot. When it came to July, it still wasn’t right and so I couldn’t actually do the walk, which was a shame. My son did it, so he drove me down anyway and I had my Wookie t-shirt on. I wanted to go to the event no matter what, so I planned to just sit in the car and wait for them to finish. I had my crutches with me and before I knew it I was up and asking the volunteers if I could help to hand out the medals. I got chatting to some of them and said that I’d really like to start volunteering for the Hospice.
By the end of July, we handed in a cheque to Ashgate Hospicecare and we’d raised a total of £6,500! That was all the money from the funeral, from Sparkle, from funds raised by the school and from a dancing group, then I doubled it. Once I knew the total, I thought, let’s get to £10,000!
Around Christmas time I dedicated a light to Glyn at Light up a Life and came to the switch on event
Glyn's Tribute Fund was getting close to £10,000, but I wanted to carry on even after I’d reached my target! I got the primary school involved in doing a Mini Sparkle Walk and the Fundraising Team supported me to do that.
I’ve had so much love and positivity from all the Ashgate Hospicecare Staff. I've never felt so part of something. Even though I’ve been through a really awful experience, I’ve been sent in a new and positive direction as a fundraising volunteer and the Hospice has become my new family. I’ve discovered a passion and talent for fundraising that I didn’t know I had. Now Glyn’s Tribute Fund is close to £15,000 and I couldn’t be more proud!”
"We got two chairs in front of the mirror in his room and he sat there and taught me how to shave. It was so special to me that we were able to do that at the hospice."
"My dad was a very strong, fit man who was a Police Inspector for Chesterfield. He was diagnosed with cancer for the first time at age 43 – bowel cancer – and went through treatment to remove it. But then at 48, unfortunately, he was diagnosed with liver cancer."
"It was 1994 and I was only 14 years old at the time. I was living at home with mum and dad, and both my sisters had moved out as they’re a bit older than me. One of them was due to get married a few months later and, unfortunately, I ended up giving her away in my dad's place. Dad knew that I would be giving my sister away and we spoke about how I would do it. He gave me his tie to wear for it and everything. It was good that we were able to speak about what was happening, but it was a very difficult time for us all.
With liver cancer, it’s quite common to have severe itching, which is what dad started to get. We’d spoken about where he wanted to be cared for and he told us he wanted to stay at home as long as possible, but he didn’t want to die at home as he knew my mum would struggle to live in the house afterwards. However, as time went on we were finding it more and more difficult to control the itching at home, and so he was offered a bed at Ashgate Hospicecare for symptom management.
The first time I came to visit him was my first experience of a hospice. I remember that we were always greeted with a smile and the staff would always ask us how we were. It felt a bit strange at the time that the staff weren’t solely focused on my dad, but it was really nice that they cared for us too and helped me to feel better about everything that was going on. I remember one of the nurses talking to me about school and talking to my sister about her job. They made things feel normal for us.
All my family felt welcome on the ward at any time. Not having any visiting times made it a really positive experience as we were able to spend lots of family time together which we remember fondly. The team who looked after dad were just phenomenal. They were so helpful and kind.
Once the nurses had managed to control the itching and other symptoms, the staff made sure everything was ready for dad to go back home, like making sure the correct equipment was delivered to the house and so on. They linked with community nurses from different organisations for night sitting, which gave me and mum the respite we needed to be able to care for dad for longer at home. I only realise now that some of the nurses who cared for dad at home weren’t from the hospice because the communication between the different organisations was so good.
As dad started to reach the end of his life, he came back into the hospice and this time he was given his own room. That made a huge difference. I used to come straight from school to the hospice on my own and the staff didn't bat an eyelid, they just welcomed me in and were really supportive. I never felt like an inconvenience and I was never treated like a child. When I would walk into his room, it felt like his own room. It didn't feel medical at all.
One of my fondest memories was when dad realised he’d never taught me to shave. So, we got two chairs in front of the mirror in his room and he sat there and taught me how to shave. It was so special to me that we were able to do that at the hospice.
I also remember talking with dad about my GCSE choices as I was trying to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up. I’m a nurse now and both of my sisters went into healthcare – one as a healthcare assistant and one as an occupational therapist. We've all said we feel that is a result of the amazing care we experienced at Ashgate Hospicecare. The whole team were fantastic, so I knew I wanted to go down that route.
As well as being a qualified nurse I’m also a senior lecturer at the University of Derby at the Chesterfield campus. We’ve got a good relationship with Ashgate Hospicecare so the student nurses I teach often do their placement at the hospice and they come back and tell us all about it, which is lovely to hear. We’ve taught them how important palliative and end of life care is in nursing. I feel that through my role, I’m able to give back some of the care we received. That’s been my motivation the whole way through.
Whilst dad was on the ward, we were so preoccupied with making sure he was comfortable, pain free and happy and so we didn’t actually realise how fantastic all the care was that we were given as a family. We were here all the time and the team really looked after all of us, not just my dad. That’s why Ashgate Hospicecare is so special to us. Whilst it was a very difficult time for us all, we felt listened to, involved and valued. The staff were so kind and compassionate; it was just phenomenal in terms of all the care that was given.
Dad died on the ward, where he wanted to be, on the 22nd June 1994. Since then, we’ve all done our bit to raise money for the hospice. This year is the 25th anniversary of my dad’s death and so I’ve decided to walk the Markovitz Sparkle Night Walk in his memory. This will be my first time doing the walk and I’m very excited! It’s a special year for me and my family but we don’t want to be sad, we want to commemorate dad’s life in a positive way. We’re all doing our own little thing this year to remember him.
Not only is it the first time I will be walking, it’s also the first time my friends will be walking and they’re doing it in memory of somebody they know. So we’re really looking forward to the night and the atmosphere. My sisters and my mum will be cheering me on!
I’m also looking forward to seeing who everybody is walking for – seeing the names and photos on the back of everybody’s T-shirts, talking to people on the night and hearing their stories. Sadly, hospice care touches so many of us and so everybody walking will have a different story and be walking for different reasons. It’s nice that we can all do something so positive together.”
“Everyone is treated as a person and their wishes are taken into account.”
My mum died on 1st November 1962, leaving myself, who was seven years old at the time, my brother, who was ten, my dad, and my grandad. We’d lost my grandma a few months earlier.
In 1962, there were no hospices. Mum was taken to hospital to die and, because we were children, neither myself nor my brother were allowed to visit her. The most upsetting thing is that, at that time, anyone close to death was moved to the bed nearest the door. I was told this harrowing fact by my cousin who was old enough to visit at the time and it has stuck with me ever since.
There was no after care for our family either; no bereavement support. The result is that mum was never talked about. As a small girl, I was scared to ask any questions about her and I can only assume our dad didn't talk about her in case he upset us, or because he was trying to protect himself and not let his emotions show. He died twelve years later when I was 19.
I remember as a teenager asking what mum died of. It was a quick answer: cancer. The conversation stopped at that. I was only left with about seven clear memories of her and I've written them down so I don’t forget them. It’s only been in the last few years that my cousin has told me snippets of what she remembers about her. Even though this answers some of my questions, it still leaves a loss that has affected me all my life.
For all these years, I’ve wanted to know why I was never allowed to see my mum when she was dying. The rules were simply: no children allowed. It hurts that my cousin was allowed to see my mum, just because she was older than us and that’s something that’s going to stay with me forever. Thankfully now things are different.
My mother-in-law died on the same day as my mum, 33 years later in 1995. She was about to go into Ashgate Hospicecare but she died more quickly than expected. The difference this time was that she wasn’t placed in a bed near the door. She was put into a private room in hospital and her family could visit anytime they liked. That was a blessing for us.
Then I lost a lifelong friend in at Ashgate on 26th December 2017. We were friends since school and lived a few doors down from each other; she was the sister I never had. Sue died only three months after receiving her diagnosis, so it was a great shock to all of us.
Seeing the care that Sue received at the Hospice and comparing it to the care my mother had, I can say that the differences between them, 55 years apart, are vast. Sue was in a private room, and as many people who wanted to visit her could go at any time. Sue was able to talk to a minister during her time here, which I know really helped. Sue wasn’t able to eat or drink much, but if any of the patients wanted an alcoholic drink, they could have one. Sue’s dog was able to visit, and her young nephews and nieces. I went into the Hospice every day to see her. I knew she hadn't got long, so I wanted to make the most of the time she had left. One of the nurses on the ward even came over and comforted me when they could see it was all getting too much for me to bare. They were absolutely fantastic, and I can’t thank them enough for how they were with Sue.
In 1962, mum wasn't a person, just a death and the family who were left behind didn’t matter either. Fast-forward to 2017 and you can see everyone is treated as a person and their wishes are taken into account. There’s bereavement counselling for families and close friends. Everyone is well cared for. Even the staff on the reception desk are very helpful and kind.
It might have taken me until now to appreciate the real importance of hospice care, not just for the patient, but for their family and friends too. That’s why I’m going to support Ashgate in whatever ways I can.
“Even though grandad had died, it was like the Hospice didn’t just forget about our family. We were still able to be involved.”
Delia tells the story of how her father-in-law was the first male patient to be cared for on the ward at Ashgate Hospicecare.
“The Hospice opened on Monday 10th October 1988, and we took grandad – I always called him grandad because of the kids – my husband’s dad, Bill, in on Thursday. The Hospice was so much smaller than it is now – there were only 14 beds compared with the 21 they have now.
With grandad being the first male patient in there, they made such a fuss of him! When he came into the Hospice for the first time, they kept saying, “Come on in Bill, you’re our first gentleman you are!” I think grandad quite enjoyed having all these young, enthusiastic nurses running around after him. It made it that much easier because he got on so well with them.
It was a lovely atmosphere in the Hospice. The staff would feed grandad whenever he was hungry or make him a cup of tea whenever he wanted one, because grandad loved a cuppa! There was always someone there to take care of him, day or night. The staff had always got time to talk to him. Often when we visited, there would be a nurse sitting at his side talking to him.
I thought the staff must have got fed up of us because we asked so many questions! We’d never dealt with cancer in the family before, but the nurses were always happy to speak to us about any worries we had. We’d ask them about how grandad was progressing and about his medication. And if they couldn’t answer us straight away, they’d always get back to us before we went home. They never left us wondering.
There was one nurse I'll never forget. They were all good, but this nurse was particularly special, and she got along with grandad very well. This nurse got married just after grandad died. She had her wedding at the chapel in the Hospice and we were all invited to attend.
Grandad stayed in the Hospice for about two weeks and then we brought him home. At that time, over 30 years ago, when grandad came out of the Hospice, we had to pay for a private nurse to come and sit with him because we couldn't leave him on his own. Now, of course, there are teams at the Hospice that can support patients at home. We only had grandad home for a matter of days, and then he had to come back into the Hospice and was given in a private room.
I remember going to see grandad one night and he was really wound up, in a real state. We did what we could to calm him, but it wasn’t really working. The next day when we saw him, he was really relaxed. He told us that a Roman Catholic priest had been to see him and he said they’d had a really good talk. From then on, grandad’s attitude seemed to change completely. Grandad seemed much more at peace and more prepared for death. I still don't know to this day what the priest said to him, but it really helped.
That was only a few days before he died. On Tuesday, 15th November 1988, he died. When grandad died, we were taken into a little side room and one of the nurses came in with this great big tray with pots of tea on it and coffee and whisky too! The nurses never rushed us away from grandad; they gave us the time we needed with him. We still wanted to talk to him, even though he was gone. His eldest grandson had travelled from London to see him, so he wanted his time with him too. There were a lot of us there, but the nurses didn’t mind. They were very considerate.
I say it was a horrible time, but there were lots of caring and thoughtful people who were involved in grandad’s care. They couldn’t do enough to help us. At that time, many people were afraid of hospices, but Ashgate Hospicecare was a beautiful place.
The Hospice invited us to the Christmas service that it held in the chapel. Even though grandad had died, it was like the Hospice didn’t just forget about our family. We were still able to be involved. The Hospice was brilliant, and I can't praise the staff enough, even now, thirty years later.”
“The Hospice was a life-saver to me. They took all the stress out of caring and I got the best bits; the nice moments.”
“My husband, Alex, was ﬁrst diagnosed with prostate cancer when he was 62, and we were very lucky because he had quite a pioneering treatment and was still going 20 years later! He was still cycling, and he went up the Alps at age 84! He was also having hormone treatment that worked to keep the cancer at bay. He had a few minor side effects with it, but he was still well and active most of the time."
"When he was 85, he became quite poorly. We carried on as best we could for a few years. Fortunately, I’d retired by then, so I was able to care for him full-time. He was a very good patient! He was impatient with himself and kept asking how he’d come to this after keeping himself ﬁt for all these years, but he never put any blame on anyone else.
He declined more and more, while I was still nursing him at home. He put up a very strong ﬁght, he’d got a strong heart, but he was really quite poorly. This went on for two years and it was getting more and more difﬁcult for me, caring for him on my own. It got to the point where I had to lift Alex whenever he needed moving. He was in a lot of pain and it was taking its toll on me too. So, the nurse at our GP surgery put a referral through to Ashgate, as he said the staff there might be able to help.
Having help from the Hospice was like receiving a bag of gold! Three days after we were referred by that nurse, the Hospice said they had a bed for Alex. They said we’ll just take him in to give you a break and we can go from there. He came here and I immediately felt as though we belonged. Everybody at the Hospice treated him with the utmost care and respect and they were even asking if I was ok. I was really surprised, thinking, I’m not the patient!
He was only here for three weeks but he was content and happy in that time. I slept on the ward overnight in a recliner at the side of his bed. I had a routine of nipping back home in the morning to see our cats and have a shower. I’d sit next to him, sometimes he was conscious and other times he wasn’t, but I’d just sit and chat to him and it was just like being at home. I couldn’t fault the nursing care at all.
Many of our friends who came to visit thought it would be a dismal place, but they were really surprised to ﬁnd that it’s not! It’s just the opposite. In fact, we had quite a few laughs here, together, and with the nurses as well. I was worried that I would feel guilty not being able to look after him right up to the end at home, but he got far better care here. I was still able to care for him and yet there were professionals here to help too; to help with the difficult bits.
The Hospice was a life-saver to me. They took all the stress out of caring and I got the best bits; the nice moments. My friend had a little dog which Alex was very fond of. So, when I found out you could bring dogs in here, it was wonderful! The dog would come in, get on the bed and lie across Alex whilst he stroked him. It was great. You could come and visit no matter what time it was, and the fact that dogs could come in made all the difference. It made the Hospice feel like ours. I can see that it’s a very tight organisation, but to the relative of a patient it feels very informal. I think that’s exactly what’s needed.
It was difﬁcult with the family living far away. Our son and daughter live in Scotland and they are both professionals with tight time schedules. It was hard because we didn’t know when the end might be. My son had been to visit his dad the weekend before he died. Alex then started to decline the following Tuesday and died on the Wednesday. On that Wednesday morning, my daughter had rung me and asked how her dad was, and he was alright. But after that, he suddenly started to deteriorate rapidly, and so I called her back and she drove down at speed from the Isle of Skye. It was all very sudden but the care we received was excellent.
The nurses on duty knew he was close to the end, so they’d keep coming in to check on things, but they never imposed. My daughter arrived only about 20 minutes before her dad died, but we were so lucky that she was able to be there.
I can still hear his voice at the back of my head, sometimes saying, ‘I’m alright Jude, don’t you worry about things.’ It’s a comfort to know that he was so content here and he felt like he was ready to depart after 87 years. He knew he couldn’t live like that any longer and he was very accepting of that by the end.
I feel great affection for the Ashgate. I couldn’t fault the care we had at that time and I feel very indebted to the Hospice. I sometimes still see some of the nurses who cared for Alex, and I feel so happy that they still welcome me warmly when I come back in to volunteer. They told me about the counselling services they have here and said if I ever needed to, I could receive counselling. I got to know one of the Chaplains, Siobhan, and I knew that if I ever wanted to talk to somebody I could.”
“The staff were totally sensitive all the way along.”
“My husband Duncan was a brilliant man. We were married for forty years. We were soulmates. He was a Highland Scot, very intelligent and had a degree from Glasgow. He had thousands of books and read all the time. To see a man with a brain like that deteriorate is just awful. After he was diagnosed with cancer, Duncan developed Parkinson’s and I was his main carer for ten years."
"When we were told he had Parkinson’s, I told him to keep challenging it, keep doing things, keep walking, potter in the garden. I did all I could to keep his spirits up, but it wasn’t easy to handle. I used to give him his pills on a spoon with a bit of jam because that’s the only way he’d take them. One day, he got the spoon and threw it across the courtyard. I thought, well that's that then! Another time, I went out to the garage to get something and when I came back in, he'd taken everything out of the kitchen cupboards, and it was all on the worktop. He said he was looking for something. I didn’t realise Parkinson’s could do that to people. He had to take steroids for the cancer and the skin on his poor arms went thin and sore, so I put covers on for him and he took them straight off again.
It was difficult knowing what was happening to him, but I never cried in front of him. I just kept as upbeat as I could. When we used to go to hospital appointments, I’d make it like an outing for him, like an adventure. We used to get crisps and something to drink out of the vending machine and he used to look forward to it.
It wasn’t easy, but the staff at the Hospice were supportive all the way through. The first involvement we had with Ashgate, Duncan was asked if he wanted to go to the Day Hospice. I used to drop him off and then I could have a bit of a break for the day. He was a very sociable man and made friends there. He was able to have his little tot of whisky there, which he liked. When I came to pick him up, the staff would always have a chat with me and ask me how I was coping. They could see I wasn’t well. I have other health conditions too, so looking after Duncan really took its toll. They did all they could to take the stress of caring away for me.
He went to the Day Hospice for a couple of weeks and then he went into the ward to get help with his symptoms. While he was in there, I could bring the dog in. We had a Staffy called Poppy then. We used to bring her in and my son's greyhound too because he loved dogs. It makes it feel more normal having your dog with you, just like having your little glass of whisky. It’s wonderful to think that the patients have something like that they can look forward to every day.
Duncan was supposed to come home a few days later, so the Hospice arranged for a special bed to be delivered for him at home. The occupational therapists delivered it and made it look beautiful and tidy for him. They supplied us with all sorts of equipment for the house. Then the staff on the ward suggested keeping him in for a few more days. I think they just got a feeling that he was going to go. So, the OTs came and collected all the equipment again. Had he come home, it would have all been there for him.
He would have liked to have come home to die. That’s what he said when he could remember. It sounds odd to say but, in some ways, the Parkinson’s protected him from the reality of the cancer and I was glad of that. He wasn't really aware of how it was affecting him. I would have liked him to have died at home because I think people feel better at home, but I wasn’t well enough and I think the staff saw that too. The staff were totally sensitive all the way along. I'll be forever grateful to the Hospice for making those last few weeks with Duncan easier to cope with. The staff and volunteers were always cheerful.
Although Duncan was a difficult patient in some ways because of the Parkinson’s, he never did anything to cause trouble on purpose and he never fussed when I was looking after him. I think that’s why I was so upset after he died. I’d put on a brave face for all those years for him and afterwards it all came out. However, the aftercare from the Hospice was wonderful. I went to group counselling for six weeks, which was really helpful. We all had a laugh there as well. When you've lost somebody, you feel guilty about laughing, but the Chaplain who ran the group was brilliant. He helped us to laugh and told us it was ok.
After that, a volunteer counsellor from the Hospice came to my house every week for a year, because I was still in a bad way. She was absolutely wonderful. The Hospice went above and beyond what I had expected, and they helped me through the most difficult time.
We had a collection at Duncan’s funeral for Ashgate and raised over £1,000. Then, I wanted to do something more, so I wrote Ashgate into my Will. I wanted to leave something for all the Hospice has done for me, for the way they looked after Duncan, and for all the support I received after he died, and it’s no skin off my nose. It's a legacy; it's something I can leave knowing that I’m going to help somebody when I’m gone. It’s the least the Hospice deserves.”
John and Kath’s Story
"Until illness hits, you just get on with your life and you don’t think about all these services that you might need until they’re necessary."
I’m Chris Barnes, a specialist nurse delivering care to people like Kath and her husband John in their homes. Kath was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and was referred to Ashgate Hospicecare by her GP. When I first went to see them, I asked what their biggest worries were. It was clear that Kath was in a lot of pain and she told me that she was having trouble swallowing. Her husband, John, was concerned that she wasn’t eating properly.
I visited Kath each week in her home, making sure her medication was correct and ensuring that she had the right care at home during the times I wasn’t there. At one point, Kath’s pain was too much for the couple to deal with at home, so I asked if Kath wanted to come onto the ward at the Hospice until she felt a bit better, and then she could come home. I knew that Kath’s care was getting very difficult for John, so I arranged for home carers to come in everyday when Kath came out of the Hospice. I also referred them to our other teams to make sure that they got the equipment Kath needed in her home and that they were receiving the correct financial support as both of them had stopped working.
John said, “Chris has been an emotional support as well as everything else. She always gets a cuddle off me at the end of her visits! She’s been fantastic with us and she just sorts things out so that we have less to worry about.
We’re really grateful for all the help that’s available to us. Until illness hits, you just get on with your life and you don’t think about all these services that you might need until they’re necessary. I think it’s really important that everyone understands this. I’m sure we’re not on our own. I’m sure there are lots of families caring for loved ones at home and going through exactly the same thing as us, and I’m sure there are people struggling much more than me to care for their loved one. That’s why we believe it’s so important to support Ashgate. We want everyone to get this kind of support at the most difficult time in their lives.”
Since this was written, Kath has sadly died. We are thinking of Kath and her family at this sad time.