Christmas is a very special time, but for many of the people we support, the festive period can feel very different.
All year round we provide specialist care for patients, free of charge. But to do this, we need to £9 a minute. While our care is unwavering 365 days a year, what we do for local families is perhaps more poignant at Christmas.
We'd love you to hear Lorraine's story. She is supporting our Christmas Appeal by telling us about the compassionate care she and her family received earlier this year. Watch her video here.
"My name is Lorraine. In June this year my husband Mark died peacefully at Willen Hospice, where he felt so calm and loved. He was only 49.
I hope you can take a few minutes to read our story and understand why Willen is so special to me and our three children, Sam, Grace and Emma.
Mark was a real family man. He was my best friend. He loved chilling out with us, going for walks with our dog, cycling and running with me. He was really into music and was an avid vinyl collector. He was a loving, gentle person and everyone liked him. This year would’ve been our 25th wedding anniversary - it was going to be our year.
At the end of 2017 we received the devastating news that Mark had cancer in his neck and kidneys. He was given a year to live. As you can imagine he underwent surgery and tried all sorts of treatment but it was without success. In the end Mark chose to cope with it through pain relief. That’s when Willen Hospice stepped in with their amazing support.
As a family we were aware of the Hospice. About five years ago my daughter, Emma, volunteered there once a week and in the holidays. We’d drop her off and pick her up and she’d tell us all about what had happened on her shift. I actually remember her telling us about a patient who was only Mark’s age. It was heart-breaking. Little did we know that a few years later, he would be there experiencing that care himself.
At the beginning Mark would go to the Hospice for complementary therapies. He loved a massage and acupuncture. It helped focus his mind, take away pain and make him feel relaxed. It helped me to know that something that wasn’t a harsh medicine was helping in a gentle way.
After his radiotherapy he couldn’t walk. Willen’s physiotherapist gave us a walking frame and the bits he needed to get around the house. Having Hospice specialists come to our house was so helpful as they knew exactly what we were going through. Mark also had a great relationship with Dr Ben Dietsch. Some doctors you see are rushed, but Ben is so calm and just allows you that time to express what’s going on in your mind and gives the answers you need.
When you’re in a situation like this, the last thing you think about is yourself. I spent so much time at appointments, caring for Mark, I simply didn’t think about how I was feeling. One day when Mark was at the Hospice, I was asked to fill in a questionnaire about how I felt. It was then that I became involved with Charlotte, Willen’s counsellor. It was probably the best thing that happened for me. Sure, I could talk to friends and family, but it’s not quite the same. Charlotte got to know me, and everything about Mark and our situation. I didn’t have to repeat details to different people. She was just there for me and I know Mark felt better knowing that.
Mark was cared for by the Hospice right in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, so we were prepared that things would be a little different to usual. He was initially at home and I would be on the phone to the Willen at Home team most days. It’s very scary knowing that your husband could die at any time. Their calls got me through. From me explaining what was happening, they could tell when he was coming to the end of his life and when it was time to go in to the Hospice. I think I knew myself, but just kept thinking ‘we’re ok’.
Mark knew what was happening, so he settled down in the calm surroundings with the view he loved of the lake. I promised I’d be with him until the end and I didn’t break that. The nurses also allowed my son to be with us, and they made sure we were comfortable, bringing us chairs and blankets - whatever we needed. He died with us by his side on 29 June. We were all devastated; we still are. We were also desperate to pay back the love and care that Willen had shown us.
We couldn’t believe that they have to raise £9 a minute to carry on. To help, the kids set up an online Tribute Page on the Hospice website. This gave us a great focus and was a wonderful way to raise money and for people to leave messages about Mark. We were thrilled to have raised over £7,000. Losing Mark was just awful but knowing we were doing something to help the people who’d helped us meant such a lot to us all.
Since Mark’s death, I have carried on seeing Charlotte for counselling sessions and have been back to visit his room. All the way through I’ve been told I’m always welcome, and I know that’s true. We never go a day without speaking about him. We’re still finding our feet so we know this Christmas is going to be hard. We’ll be thinking of the wonderful Willen doctors and nurses who will be spending the day with other patients like Mark.
We will always be thankful for everything the Hospice did for Mark in those last two years. I hope you can find it in your heart to support them this Christmas so that other families like ours - maybe even yours - can experience that same care if it’s ever needed. We didn’t expect to ever need it, but you just don’t know what’s around the corner.
Please donate today to help other families like Lorraine and Mark’s.