"We must destroy the stigma around hospices"

Jess when she was younger, with her family

"If, as a teenager, I'd been told: 'Jess, your Dad is going to be taken into the large homely building up our road that is like a hospital but quieter with fewer patients and just as high-quality care', my reaction would have been very different." Blogger Jess Bacon, whose dad passed away at our Thorpe Hall Hospice, stresses the importance of busting myths about end of life care.

When our nurse told us that my Dad would need to go into a Sue Ryder hospice, I was terrified. I had no idea what a hospice was, but I knew it was not good; people went there to pass away so it must be horrendous, right?

The name 'Thorpe Hall' was being repeated in the conversation. I knew of it  – it was this stately home building at the end of our road – and thought to myself: that's a hospice?

My misconceptions as a 16 year old

I imagined what it was like inside. (Now, remember I was sixteen at the time and I have a very good imagination...) Well, I thought it would be like the cat hospital in Doctor Who: clinical and scary.

My next thought was that it would just be one long hall with beds lining the walls, no noise, no movement and just one nurse attending the beds.

I think what we can read from these assumptions is that:

  1. I watched way too much Doctor Who as a child and
  2. Children should be taught what a hospice is, maybe when they learn about hospitals.

If I'd been told: "Jess, your Dad is going to be taken into the large homely building up our road that is like a hospital but quieter with fewer patients and just as high-quality care", my reaction would have been very different. Even if I'd been told hospices were warm, friendly and filled with laughter as a child, I would have been far more relaxed by the prospect.

Whereas, as a 16-year-old whose Dad had cancer and now had to go into a hospice, the effect of being told it was a lovely place made me feel quite nauseous and as though it was a lie.

I could not have been more wrong.

What a hospice is really like

Thankfully, my Dad was not cared for by cat nurses and nor was he in a row of beds in a long hall, and there certainly wasn't a clinical or cold feel about the place at all.

It was a big house really. Dad had a room to himself with a view of beautiful gardens and endless fields.

There was a communal kitchen for guests to make cups of tea, fridges to fill with food that the patients really wanted to have – so my Dad could still have his daily Cornetto, phew! – and the nurses were funny, chatty and there were enough nurses to attend to all the patients.

The nurses, doctors and volunteers chatted to us all, let me revise in the lounges, asked me about exams and would do anything for you. Even the non-ill members of the family still felt supported and were treated as though they were as important as the ill member of the family.

"It's those small things that really matter"

Hospitals just don't have the resources for that kind of care, which is exactly why hospices exist. It became our home away from home in every single way, and that massively comforted my Dad; his final few weeks were spent with his family being his family, rather than caring for him.

The care is incredible because it's thoughtful and genuine. The kitchen staff made my brother a birthday cake, as my Dad was too ill to leave the hospice on my brother's 13th birthday, so they brought the party to us. The nurses made me a hot chocolate in the middle of the night when I was in hysterical tears and couldn't sleep.

It's those small things that really matter.

Despite my Dad only being admitted for a medication tweak, his cancer was aggressive, his condition sadly deteriorated and, within three weeks, he was gone. We had to leave Thorpe Hall pretty quickly as I had an exam four hours later, but we were back within the following hours as my brother had made the nurses cakes and, well... they're still trying to shake us off, to be honest.

Why we have to talk about hospices

If I'd have known that a hospice was a second home, filled with as much love, laughter, care and comfort as a home should be, then I would not have been so scared for my Dad to go there.

We have to talk about hospices, otherwise people's minds can run away with the meaning of this ominous word. Sue Ryder hospices admit patients for medication tweaks all the time, and more often patients return home rather than remain in the hospice.

My Dad didn't return home, because he didn't need to; we were already home.

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Jess Bacon
Jess Bacon

Jess's dad was cared for at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough. Since he died, she has found solace in blogging.