January marks 20 years since Vicky’s dad, John, was cared for by the Hospice. On this anniversary, Vicky celebrates her kind-hearted, globe-trotting, life-loving dad, and describes the relief her family felt that John could spend his final days here.
My dad was one of my favourite people in the world. He was a big man – six foot one or two. He was just lovely. ‘Be nice to everybody’ was his mantra. He would have given anyone the shirt off his back if they’d needed it.
Travelling the world
When I was a child, we travelled a lot with Dad’s work as a sales director. He saw so many corners of the globe. We lived in Belgium and the US. My memories are of him flitting in and out between travelling. He’d always come home from a trip abroad with presents for me, my brother and my sisters, like the little jade bunny rabbit that he bought me in Japan. But every Sunday was his day with us. We’d go swimming in the morning, then he’d take us to see his brother play football.
Loving life, despite ill health
Dad had a massive stroke when he was 47, which disabled him down one side of his body. He’d had type 1 diabetes for most of his life. He drank and smoked too much, but didn’t want to give either of those up because he enjoyed them. After the stroke, he managed to work for another four or five years, before finally retiring. He just loved life after that. Me and him went to Brazil and walked up and down Copacabana Beach because he’d always wanted to do it. And he saw a lot of friends.
“He had a couple of heart attacks. But he always rallied round.”
Christmas in hospital
As well as his stroke and diabetes, he had a couple of heart attacks. There was one massive scare when we thought he was dying. But he always rallied round. In late 2003 Dad went out to my sister’s wedding in Sri Lanka. He wasn’t well, but he wasn’t going to miss it. After he came home, in early December, he was taken into Milton Keynes hospital. He was very poorly. Having had several scares though, I thought he’d pull through and be fine. He was 58.
Moving to the Hospice
On New Year’s Eve the hospital said there was nothing more they could do for Dad. He said, “Well, I just want to go home.” His mum had died in hospital with Alzheimer’s and he’d absolutely hated it. He was adamant he didn’t want to be there. We talked to the hospital about caring for Dad at home, but it would have been too difficult. So on the Saturday afternoon we got a call to say they were transferring him to Willen Hospice. At that point we thought, OK, we know it’s imminent.
“The nurses were like guardian angels. They swooped in, wrapped him up in their arms and looked after him for those last days.”
Like a warm hug
I couldn’t fault any of the care he had at the Hospice. The nurses were like guardian angels. They swooped in, wrapped him up in their arms and looked after him for those last days. It was like a warm hug, and such a relief that he was no longer in a hospital ward full of men coughing and machines beeping. The fact that he had his own room, could listen to the radio and could have visitors at any time made his last days bearable for us. My uncle was working shifts, so he came in the evening after work and sat with Dad for a couple of hours. It felt like a home from home.
I had visited Dad with my eldest son, Sam, who was 18 months old at the time. We’d been there most of Sunday afternoon. The last words Dad spoke to us were to say, “Bye bye, Sammy. Love you.” We left at 8.30pm. Then we got a call from the Hospice around midnight to say, “He’s going. Do you want to come in?”
“You think you want to be there holding someone’s hand when they go, but the nurse said sometimes loved ones don’t want you to see their last moments.”
I lived very close by, in Monkston, but me and my sisters all missed it. By the time we got there, he’d gone. The nurses were waiting to greet us and take us through to his room. They said we didn’t have to go in and see him, but I did. I kissed his temple. He looked comfortable and at peace, which was lovely. I couldn’t have asked for more. You think you want to be there holding someone’s hand when they go, but the nurse said sometimes loved ones don’t want you to see their last moments. There was a note on his noticeboard in his room saying, “John, your sister Jo called. She loves you and misses you.” He’d had so many visitors. We sat in his room until three or four in the morning.
I was 32 when he died. So I was an adult, but I still feel bereft. I still miss him. Every year me and my sister celebrate his birthday or the day that he passed by doing something. Even though I get a bit teary, I love talking about him.
“The Hospice plays such an important role.”
I find it reassuring to know that somewhere like Willen Hospice is available. We’ve come to the annual Lights of Love ceremonies before Christmas and I’ve had lottery tickets for about 10 years. Last year someone knocked on the door to ask if I’d like to start a monthly donation – I didn’t hesitate because the Hospice plays such an important role.
Dad wrote us a letter that we found after he died and he’d left us instructions. One of them was ‘never p*** anybody off – it’s just not worth it’. He did his utmost to help people. That’s one of the reasons why I want to give back, because I think that’s what he would have done. He was a nice, nice man and Willen Hospice did him a great, great service.