Michelle tells us about being her parents’ carer, making memories and how counselling at St Peter & St James Hospice supported her.
“It helped me as a carer; my worries, exhaustion, my emotions and my frustrations, it helped so much to talk to someone from the outside looking in with all of their experience to help me.”
Michelle’s parents, Margaret and Bob, were married for 50 years and were a devoted couple. When first her Mum and then Dad were diagnosed with cancer, Michelle sought help from the counselling service at St Peter & St James Hospice. They supported her through both illnesses and subsequent bereavements.
Initially after her mum’s diagnosis Michelle’s focus was to make as many happy memories as possible while there was still time. “It was all about making memories, because we didn’t know how long she had. She was healthy enough to have treatment which prolonged things for about 3 and a half years. During that time we were all together and she loved that, she just wanted to enjoy being in the moment. We packed a hell of a lot in, more than 3 and a half years worth!”
Taking her Mum to hotels, to see her favourite band, The Drifters (who they got to meet backstage!) and staying on the Isle of Wight, they really made the most of their time together.
Michelle’s Mum was her Dad’s carer, so when her Mum was diagnosed, as an only child she felt a huge responsibility to look after her parents. Michelle decided to become their full time carer and moved them into her home. It was then that Michelle reached out to St Peter & St James Hospice. Although her Mum felt that talking to a hospice meant that she was giving up, Michelle wanted to introduce her to it so that her Mum could build a relationship that would make things easier as her illness progressed. That connection was particularly important in reassuring her Mum that she could be cared for at home and would only come into the hospice if she wished.
“I’d gone part time at work because I was going to set up an events company and then Mum was diagnosed and it just floored me. This was more important, so I used my spare time to be with her. I used all my holiday to take her to appointments and treatment; so when she got cancer, we got even closer. We had a warped sense of humour and would laugh about stupid things…I think sometimes your sense of humour gets you through.”
“If I had any issues or problems, I would just phone up and speak to Jon, Liz or one of the team and chat it through. With all the medications, sometimes I’d feel a bit out of my depth and I could speak to someone who knew what they were talking about. When she passed away at my house, we were all with Mum.”
Almost a year after her Mum’s death, Michelle’s Dad, Bob, started to develop chest and shoulder pain. He too had cancer and unfortunately no treatment could be offered. Michelle again made as many happy memories with her Dad as she could, doing a tour of Biggin Hill Memorial Museum and driving an army tank. “He was laughing, it was brilliant, and he actually drove! We got in the back of it, with our army hats on, and he drove us down the track.”
Michelle’s Dad didn’t want to come into the hospice initially but after becoming too sick to leave his bed Michelle found it too difficult to give him the care he needed. After a particularly bad night, feeling stressed and exhausted she called Liz in the community team.
“I need help right now, I can’t do this on my own. I was beside myself, I didn’t know what to do.”
Liz visited the family that same day and saw that Bob’s condition had deteriorated. She explained that he might need to go into hospital, but Bob was adamant that he didn’t want to go. He then agreed to come into the hospice, for respite care. Once there Bob realised how comfortable it was; for Michelle it offered huge relief, enabling her and her family to spend quality time with him.
“I was able to be his daughter, not his carer….I actually think it prolonged his life if I’m perfectly honest because at home I would have obviously done my best for him but I’m not a nurse and there might have been things that I may not have spotted and you guys [nursing team] can make a decision right away.”
“Hospice care is home from home, it isn’t so clinical. He had his pictures on the wall and his DVD player, he sat out in the garden, he loved banter with the nurses. When you’ve never been to a hospice, it’s a scary place, until you come to one, then you realise it’s not scary, not at all. It’s a very loving environment.” Michelle was able to bring in his grandkids, great grandkids and Fred the dog!
During this time, Michelle was seen by Cathy, a counsellor at St Peter & St James Hospice, for both carer and bereavement counselling support.
“The counselling helped me talk about how I was feeling. It has taught me it’s ok to cry, to grieve and to miss loved ones. Cathy help me to understand how I was feeling is completely natural, as I felt lost having been Mum and Dad’s carers for 5 years. She explained that I will find my way again but I need to give myself time.”
Michelle is an avid supporter of the Hospice; “I will forever be grateful, the hospice team were the ones that gave my parents and me support when we needed it.”
You aren’t alone; if you would like to find out more about our services for carers please visit our Carers, Family & Friends webpage, or if you would like to talk to our Supportive Care team you can call us on 01444 471 598.