Helen & Freda

My mum, Freda, passed away in Willow Wood on 8th September 2015 from lung cancer. She had only been diagnosed in the March of that year. We knew about Willow Wood from a relative who had used their day services when she was herself going through cancer and mum always said she’d like to go there. She never got to use their day services as she went through chemotherapy, radiotherapy and then was in hospital. However she did get the opportunity to go there for her final hours. She was transferred from Tameside hospital in the afternoon of the eighth and passed away in the evening.

We will forever be grateful for this opportunity. The staff in Tameside hospital were lovely, but mum didn’t want to pass away in such a clinical environment. What made it for her about Willow Wood was that she was allowed to see her dogs. I swear that she held out for longer so that she could get a place and get to see her dogs one last time. Being in a chest ward for weeks, she was not allowed to see her dogs. Having just had them for company for years, it broke her heart. But Willow Wood welcomed both her and the dogs. Although ‘out of it’ somewhat by the time she was transferred, she definitely perked up when the dogs came into the room for their visit and I’m sure she knew they were there.

I cannot praise the staff at Willow Wood highly enough. They were extremely caring and very professional. They didn’t just look after my mum but they looked after all of us. Dr Tapley, in particular, was amazing. He came to see my mum when she was in hospital to introduce himself and was very kind. He reassured her that she ‘wasn’t ready for the hospice yet’ but when the time was right, he would do his best to make sure she got in there. He cheered her up at a time when she was quite low and pointed out how health is as much a state of mind as anything else. It didn’t matter, he said, what kind of blood scores and results you had, but it was about being positive.

Personally, I was in a terrible state that day. Mum had gone onto a palliative care regime and I’d been awake for hours at her side, sharing the task with my sister, Jaine, and my two older brothers, Stephen and David. Dr Tapley understood our grief. He took the time to speak to me on my own and calmed me down. The beautiful gardens at Willow Wood, accessed easily from each room in the hospice, provided the perfect place for contemplation.

All the staff were attentive. They made us all some tea and told us about the little cafe where we could get some much- needed sandwiches. Mum’s room was spacious and homely and we watched television as we sat with her. The staff were on hand to attend to her every need. They were like angels. Our mum could not have asked for better end of life care, passing away peacefully in a tranquil environment surrounded by caring people. I cannot thank the hospice enough.

Not only did they look after us on that day but they have been looking after us since. We have been able to access their bereavement services. Myself and my sister have regularly attended the bereavement group on the first Wednesday of each month and have found it extremely supportive and cathartic. I would highly recommend this service. We have made some very good friends there and shared many memories which has helped us to grieve. Anne and Eddy, who lead the sessions, are warm and friendly and have been invaluable in getting us through some difficult times as we have come to terms with the loss of our mum. They still regularly keep in touch.

I have written a book about my mum’s last few weeks, starting with her admittance to hospital, which includes the role played by Willow Wood. Although obviously sad in parts, it was written to pay homage to my mum and her life and so contains a lot of nostalgic references to us growing up from the 1970s onwards. There are a lot of funny stories in it! I published it on Amazon, entitling it ‘Eight’ (a special number in my mum’s life) as a tribute to my mum and to give her a legacy. Of course, not everyone needs to write a book, but I highly recommend the process as a form of catharsis. It certainly helped me.

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