Sue’s sister Margaret was a nurse on Martlets’ inpatient unit (IPU). After becoming ill with terminal cancer, Margaret was cared for in her last days by Martlets on the IPU. Sue shares her story here.
“My older sister Margaret and I were great friends. I’m 71 now and Margaret would have been 74. She was my absolute rock, she stuck with me through everything in my life and vice versa. We were always there for each other.
Our mother was a Matron and nursed through the War; Margaret followed in her footsteps and went into nursing, eventually taking a job at Martlets. It must have been tough at times caring for people who were dying, but her husband Ken and her children have said that she never let on if she’d had a difficult day. She was a committed nurse, wife and mother.
It was a shock when Margaret was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2018. We were all so angry and frustrated through the COVID pandemic because instead of hugging her children and grandchildren, she had to look at them from afar. COVID stole that precious time for all of us, but Margaret rose above it. Through multiple rounds of chemotherapy she was an absolute trooper and gave it her best shot. But suddenly, at the end, things happened very quickly and she went into Martlets inpatient unit for the last week of her life.
As soon as she arrived at Martlets her words were ‘I’m safe now’. Because she had been a nurse there she knew that however long she had left, she was in safe hands. That word ‘safe’ was such an absolute comfort to us all as a family.
Margaret was cared for in her home with visits from community nurses, and her husband was just amazing as were her son and daughter. When she finally came in as a patient, many long-serving staff members remembered her. It was a shock for them that she was now there not as a nursing colleague, but as a patient.
Although I had been volunteering in one of Martlets shops, it was only when Margaret became a patient that I fully discovered what an incredible job the staff do. They were so caring and looked after Margaret with such compassion. I also realised this level of care is what Margaret provided when she was nursing at Martlets, and we saw through their care what a wonderful nurse Margaret must have been.
As a family one or all of us were there with her at all times during that week. We all just took turns being beside her. We would have picnics in the gardens outside her room, it was such a lovely experience in some ways despite the difficult circumstances because we were all together.
Her last day was so peaceful and that was because Martlets gave her strength and peace by managing her symptoms and caring the way they did. It meant that she could give us, as a family, that beautiful last day together.
Even though Margaret didn’t have the strength to talk to us much, we could still laugh, talk to her and squeeze her hand. She could hear us and knew we were still there. Occasionally she would open her eyes and look around at each of us as if to make sure we were there with her. One of us had been always there and yet she died during the time when we’d stepped away. When we went back in, we were able to hold her hand and sit quietly with her for as long as we needed. I couldn’t help but think ‘why did you go alone?’ and ‘why didn’t you ask for us?’ but it was reassuring to hear from the nurses that sometimes it’s almost as if the person waits for their loved ones to leave before they can finally let go.
During that week, a male nurse attended to Margaret and when he left the room she said, ‘I always knew he’d make a good nurse’. She had remembered him from her time working there, when he had just started. All the people that cared for Margaret were amazing and it was lovely to see.
While Margaret was a nurse at Martlets, her husband Ken became a volunteer and helped run their eBay online store. Margaret took part in the Midnight Walk and I used to volunteer in a Martlets shop. However, when Margaret’s chemo was happening, I wanted to spend more time with her, so I stepped back. Around two months ago I decided it was time to help again and along came Shaun by the Sea. Margaret’s daughter Gayle and I signed up as trailgrazers and together we have been out on the streets of Brighton & Hove, helping to raise awareness of Martlets and it’s a great way to give back.
Margaret and I had a love of quilt making. Quilts are a wonderful way to celebrate someone’s life and I am hoping to make more in her memory for Martlets’ patient rooms, using fabrics and ideas left by Margaret. They are like wrapping yourself up in a hug.
We had brought in one of Margaret’s favourite quilts and it was on the bottom of her bed during her stay. She made quilts for all the family and when I cleared her sewing room, I found a package with fabrics chosen for her great niece. The note read, ‘A quilt for Amelie, I’m sorry, I’ve run out of time’. I have finished that quilt now and will gift it to Amelie; these are the things that brought Margaret comfort and joy.
We talk about Margaret all the time and she lives on in the way speak about her and remember her. After Margaret passed away, I went to the Hospice to collect her things. I had the quilt in my hand and explained to the nursing sister on duty that it would now be draped on Margaret’s coffin, before going home to be with her husband. A hug that will be with him forever.
Margaret is greatly missed and was greatly loved.”
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