“Even during our darkest days, we found joy.”

For someone with a terminal illness, needing constant care, special Christmas moments can feel heartbreakingly out of reach - but they don’t have to be. That's why we've launched our Sue Ryder Christmas Appeal. In this blog post, supporter Jamie recalls how we gave her family the chance to share precious last moments together – festive memories they now treasure.

Jamie and her late father Jonathan
Jamie and her late father Jonathan

For Jamie Collier and her family, Christmas 2009 was a world away from the usual preparations, parties and present wrapping. Instead, she was dealing with her Dad’s devastating diagnosis of terminal cancer.

As the news sunk in, one of the family’s many worries was how they would care for him in his final days. Here, Jamie tells the story of what happened after they discovered their local Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.

For most people, Christmas 2009 was just like any other. Full of hustle and bustle, they were focused on preparation and celebration. Cards were delivered, presents were wrapped and parties were in full swing.

However, for our family, everything had fallen still. We were frozen in time, adrift from our normal lives and unsure of what was to come.

My father had been treated for pneumonia in the September and, in just three short months, we had gone from an investigative operation to a terminal cancer diagnosis. And now, it was time.

Our aims for the future facing us mirrored the universal messages of Christmas itself: hope, peace and love. 

"The kind palliative care team were there to care for Dad 24 hours a day"

I had heard of Sue Ryder after buying from and donating to their charity shops. We were fortunate that the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice was just a couple of miles away from our family home.

Standing on top of a hill, the majestic medieval hospice building was a sight to behold. I'm not sure what we expected a hospice to look like but this one surpassed all our expectations.

I fondly remember my Dad joking with the staff – “I should have done my hair!” – as he was carried up the stone steps on a stretcher and welcomed in to the Cotswold hospice.

Full of personality, he chatted to the chef and we were astonished to find that her team would make anything at all that he fancied to eat. The kind, caring palliative care team were there to care for Dad 24 hours a day and make him as comfortable as possible.

Dad settled into his room, which looked out across the rolling fields, just as the first flakes of snow began to fall. Our family began to gain a sense of our ‘new normal’.

Jamie Collier in the snow
"We shared tears, laughter and, most of all, love."
Leckhampton Court Hospice bench in the snow
Jamie's sister Lucy Stokes took these beautiful photographs of the grounds at Leckhampton Court blanketed with snow.
Snow-covered trees in the grounds of Leckhampton Court Hospice
Leckhampton Court Hospice bench and snow-covered trees
A tunnel through snow-covered trees of Leckhampton
Snow-cleared lane at Leckhampton Court Hospice
"The ground staff worked tirelessly to clear the road to the hospice to make access safe for visitors. "
The windows of Leckhampton Court Hospice covered with snow
"The countryside transformed into Narnia; diamond-like drifts of snow blocked the lane and icicles hung from the window."
Jamie with the snowman she built in the grounds of Leckhampton Court Hospice
Jamie with her snowman.
Smiling snowman sitting on a bench at Leckhampton
"We built a snowman in the hospice grounds to welcome visitors."
The snowman at Leckhampton with grass for hair

"The hospice became our home away from home – it was cosy, warm and comforting"

That night, the Gloucestershire countryside transformed into Narnia; diamond-like drifts of snow blocked the lane, icicles hung from the windowsills and the world outside Dad’s windowpane was picture-postcard perfect.

The ground staff worked tirelessly to clear the road to the hospice to make access safe for visitors.

I vividly remember basking in the warm glow of the hospice as we removed layers of hats, scarves, gloves and boots dusted with snow.

The hospice, with its grand staircases, turrets and windows, became our home away from home – particularly the family room. With a fireplace, comfy sofas, kitchen facilities and a dining table, the room was adorned with Christmas decorations, fairy lights and a twinkling tree. It wasn't morbid or cruel, as I had imagined – it was cosy, warm and comforting. We were welcome here, day and night, beside Dad.

The snow stayed for several days and we held Dad’s hand and let him know how loved he was. The staff patiently answered our questions openly and honestly, and offered us support when needed.

"Hospice care isn't focused on death; it is about putting life into your final days – however long or short they may be."

Even during our darkest days, we found joy in the most unexpected ways.

We built a snowman in the hospice grounds to welcome visitors.

We spent countless hours completing 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles.

We shared festive food and fond memories with other families of loved ones who were being cared for.

We spoke to the cows of our grief and watched their breath billow in the icy air. We walked around the duck pond and smiled at the squirrels.

We spent time for reflection in the Chapel under the gaze of the huge Christmas tree, which was adorned with messages from those who had also loved and lost at the hospice.

We saw in the New Year and watched the fireworks through the hospice windows.

We even celebrated Dad’s last birthday with balloons.

In this special space where friends and family gathered to say their goodbyes, we shared tears, laughter and, most of all, love.

Hospice care isn't focused on death; it is about putting life into your final days – however long or short they may be.

We all continue to mourn lives lost, but it’s equally important to celebrate lives lived. Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice helped us to do this in my father's final days and, for that, we will be forever grateful.

Can you help us be there when it matters this Christmas?

At Sue Ryder, we work hard to make Christmas that little bit brighter for every patient – including Jamie and her dad Jonathan.

Will you kindly donate today, and help us be there for more families? Together, we can make the frightening times feel a little less daunting, and create more of the memories that matter this Christmas.

Donate to our Christmas Appeal

Author

Jamie Collier

Daughter of patient

Jamie Collier

Jamie's late father, Jonathan, was cared for at Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice in 2009. You can read more from Jamie in her personal blog https://thriftymummathriftybubba.com.