“Darling, I do love you”: the value of dying at home

13 Feb 2018

At Sue Ryder, we do whatever we can to be a safety net for our patients and their loved ones, taking time to understand the things that help that person live the fullest life they can. Alan Wilcher recounts how our Thorpe Hall Hospice at Home team fulfilled his wife Katie’s wish: to die at home.

It was the senior consultant who was on duty at Hinchingbrooke Hospital when my wife of 40 years, Katie, was admitted as an emergency patient one Sunday in April 2016. It was very late in the day when, following exhaustive tests, I learned the dreaded news that there could be no possible recovery for her.

The compassionate way in which this awfulness was conveyed was so gentle and considerate and in the presence of several very concerned nursing staff. I cannot commend their kindness and absolute professionalism highly enough.

Katie was a very long-term sufferer of Parkinson’s Disease. I cared for her increasingly as her condition and mobility deteriorated from around 2007 and had, over time, progressively closed my business to look after her – “for better or for worse; in sickness and in health”: our marriage vows were very important to us.

It was the hospital consultant who offered several alternative “end of life” locations. Katie and I had always talked about ending our lives at home so it was their suggestion to contact Sue Ryder at Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough to ask whether their Hospice at Home service might be available or indeed suitable for us.

This was my first knowledge of such a service – although I knew of the Sue Ryder organisation from their charity shops, which we supported – but it seemed ideal.

“Wonderfully kind and gentle Hospice at Home Nurses”

Emotions blur recall of the exact order of events somewhat, but I remember the ambulance bringing us home to Bury and settling Katie into her special bed, and a Macmillan nurse arrived for a handover to the Thorpe Hall Hospice at Home team. A small succession of Thorpe Hall Hospice at Home Nurses so wonderfully ran everything from then on.

Katie was now sedated but was able to talk very quietly from time to time. I stayed with her constantly, as I had for many months.

Emotionally, this was immensely distressing but made personally manageable due to  the wonderfully kind and gentle Sue Ryder Hospice at Home Nurses. It made the unthinkable so serene, gentle and kind. I know our GP was equally impressed with the great tenderness shown to her.

Katie passed away peacefully in the home she loved

As the time of death approached, and very much in the presence of the last Hospice at Home Nurse, our lovely vicar came to read Kate the last rites. As he finished, Katie summoned the strength to say: “Thank you, Richard”.

A little later, perhaps a couple of hours before she breathed her last, she opened her eyes just a little and said: “Darling, I do love you...” and those were her last words.

Katie passed away, peacefully in the home that she loved, in the company of loved ones and the most compassionate of caring nurses, a wonderful Hospice at Home Nurse.

I am so saddened that I cannot remember any of their names, but I hope my legacy will, in some way, compensate for my memory.

Unbelievable understanding and support

As a footnote, I must commend all of the medical professionals within the NHS who tended our needs over the years and particularly at this time.

Also, the almost unbelievable understanding and support by all the other essential services – our undertakers for the great dignity they showed when the time came; the Registrar of Births and Deaths in Huntingdon; and, of course, Sue Ryder and their quite unexpectedly emotionally healing bereavement counselling for which I must highly commend them.

A black woman sits on a double bed next to a younger black male whilst they both look thoughtfully at a laptop. The son leans his head against his mother's.

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