Sisters Katharine and Helena tell us about the care their mum Hilary received on Martlets’ inpatient unit and why their dad Stephen decided to leave Martlets a legacy gift in his Will.
“Ten years ago, Mum had a brain tumour and although she had surgery and treatment nothing really worked. I was 19 and Kat was 23 and it was a lot to take in. Mum was so independent, but it was becoming more difficult for her to do everyday tasks. I think she hated the thought of us having to look after her too much as she wanted us to live our lives.
Eventually, she went into Martlets’ inpatient unit which was hard for us at first. We thought it wasn’t time yet – it felt so final going into a hospice – but she was determined.”
“I remember we were supposed to go on a family holiday, but Mum was too sick to go. We were devastated, but she convinced the two of us to go without her. While we were away, we called her and she told us she had gone into Martlets. I think she wanted to do it while we were on holiday to try and make it easier on us. It was hard though because it was like her saying this is the beginning of the end.”
Support on Martlets’ inpatient unit
“When we went to see Mum, we realised that it was very much the right place for her to be; she was getting the care she needed. The nurses just couldn’t do enough for her and for us too. Mum was at Martlets for around two months before she died. Towards the end they made us comfortable in her room and let us camp out there overnight. They never made us feel weird for bickering or crying or laughing or asking questions. And they were so sensitive and honest about what would happen; that Mum would stop eating and drinking and may not respond to us but could still hear us. The only time Mum would respond was when one of us would say ‘I love you Mum’. Then she would say ‘I love you’ back. So, she was taking in that we were there.”
“The way the nurses supported us will always stay with me. It was an awful time, but they understood that sometimes we’d use dark humour to get through it. Helena and I were racing back and forth between home and the hospice to stay by Mum’s side. We started doing everything faster and faster because we were panicking that we would miss time with Mum. It was so hard and yet it also brought me and Helena together. The nurses made us feel comfortable with whatever we were feeling and coped with all our rushing about.”
The little things made a big difference
“The staff created such a positive atmosphere; they let us put up pictures and photos all over the walls of Mum’s room. The clinical care was excellent, but it felt so much more comfortable and personal than a typical hospital environment. When Mum felt up to it, she also took part in the little craft sessions Martlets offered; they would teach people to crochet and knit which was lovely. And when she was on steroids, she was craving sweet things and wanted seconds and thirds of dessert. The nurses got extra jelly and ice cream and made sure she had the little treats that made her smile.”
“I remember on one occasion Mum was mumbling something about a donkey coming to visit. I thought it was her medication making her confused. But the nurse said someone had brought an actual donkey in to visit people in their rooms! It was Easter and it had been decorated with a flower garland. This was years ago – it wouldn’t happen now with COVID restrictions. But it was lighter moments like that that helped us carry on. And the nurses knew how to help us move through our emotions whatever we were feeling.”
“Martlets offered me bereavement counselling and my counsellor was brilliant. During a session it was the first time I could bring myself to say the words that Mum had died. There’s no one way to grieve – it was so helpful to hear that from the counsellor. Helena and I just dealt with Mum’s death in such different ways. The day after Mum died, Helena wanted us to go out for lunch with our grandma and talk about things. I didn’t want to; I couldn’t imagine wanting to go out ever again.
But I also remember saying to the counsellor ‘What is wrong with me? How am I still functioning and able to get up and go to work? Do I not love Mum enough to have a breakdown?’ And she said to me ‘no-one feels it more than you do’ and ‘everyone’s grief is different’.
Your grief is impossible for anyone else to comprehend; you can’t judge anyone for how they deal with their own feelings of loss. Over time Helena and I have got closer and more understanding in the ways we connect and talk about it.”
“Dad also dealt with his grief differently to us. I think he found it hard to deal with the emotions of two teenage girls while Mum was ill. And he didn’t know how to talk to us about it all. We were all in denial for a long time when Mum was ill. Dad couldn’t bring himself to tell us that Mum was going to die. It was just a conversation that he and Mum couldn’t manage to have with us directly. He was so grateful for what the nurses were able to do for our family; they guided us through the experience. It was a nurse that told us the facts and was honest about how long Mum might have left. She explained the reality of the dying process to us and what would happen; I think that was something that we both really needed desperately.”
Dad’s legacy gift to Martlets
“Before Mum died, she had a conversation with Dad about leaving some money to Martlets. She wanted to say thank you in a big way for all they had done. Dad always felt very strongly about that and wanted to leave money in his Will. He died suddenly last year of a heart attack and left a gift to Martlets.
Dad also did a lot of volunteering for the hospice; he enjoyed driving Martlets’ van around to pick up donations of clothes and furniture. Helena and I have also run 10k races for Martlets and Dad was so supportive of that. He’d go round to family and friends and to pubs asking people to sponsor us.”
“Dad felt so much gratitude for Martlets. It was such a relief for him to feel he could trust them to look after his wife in the best way possible. I was really proud of him for doing the volunteering over the years and for making a gift in his Will. This kind of practical support was his way of saying thank you.
Martlets also looked after our grandma in her home (Mum’s mum) at the end of her life. She had seen what amazing care they gave to her daughter and was determined to die at home; she had lived in her house for years and didn’t want to leave. The nurses came in and did everything in such a wonderful, gentle, yet efficient way. I think about 80% of the care that Martlets provides is actually in people’s homes. Not everyone realises that.”
“It’s easy to assume that Martlets will always be there providing this incredible standard of care. But their care is only free because of donations and fundraising from the community. I don’t know how we’d have coped at the end of Mum and Grandma’s lives without them. We really hope that other families can continue to benefit from the same support we got. Leaving a gift in your Will and fundraising for Martlets can make all the difference.”
Leaving a gift in your Will
Martlets relies on local people like Stephen Nelson and his family remembering us with a gift in their Will. These gifts account for more than 30% of our annual income and 1 in 3 people we help are cared for thanks to gifts in Wills. For more information go to martlets.org.uk/give-in-your-will