Facing loss alone.
Facing a terminal diagnosis comes with difficult and varying emotions for both the patient and their whānau. The process is hard, no matter the circumstances, and for those who live away from family, an instant sense of loneliness and helplessness is unavoidable. For Lucy and Richard, this became their raw reality.
We never know when we will be met with a terminal diagnosis and for many, it comes as unexpected news, and most of us don’t know how to prepare for it. That is why emotional support is a very important part of hospice care, providing comfort and care to process and navigate through the challenging time.
After immigrating to New Zealand from the UK twenty years ago, Lucy and Richard Ive were met with the difficult news alone, with their close family in the UK and spread throughout New Zealand. Despite the distance, Lucy says the support from Waipuna Hospice staff felt like family support. Not only was hospice a healthcare provider, but they became a part of her support network – someone she could reach out to during a difficult time.
Lucy and Richard had a wonderful love story, with 50 years of marriage, bringing up very loved children. After spending a lifetime with one another, Lucy is now learning to live life alone. Lucy shared the whirlwind of a journey, from receiving the diagnosis of her husband’s illness to saying her final goodbyes.
“He died in peace. We felt very fortunate about the way we were looked after. It was amazing – if he had to finish his days quicker than we thought then, what better place than here.”
“When Richard had his diagnosis in hospital in the middle of November, it was quite a shock. We’d been pressing medical staff to find out what was wrong with him for quite some time and then to get a terminal diagnosis quickly was a shock.”
Richard was transferred to palliative care when it was understood there was no treatment. Lucy says the mention of hospice triggered panic, but this was eased instantly… “We’d only been home from hospital a few hours and the nurse came to visit straightaway – that was heart-warming. Particularly as at the time, we were a bit concerned about the drugs Richard was on.”
Richard was not responding well to his drugs and struggled with side effects. Lucy says a Waipuna Hospice nurse took the information on board and made appointments with Dr Drummond… “It’s just so, so much easier… these people seem to understand where you are coming from, and so we felt a lot better about it all.”
We know death is inevitable. However, we always think there’ll be another tomorrow. We never know when our lives will end. Waipuna is there for families to help and support them navigate through this difficult time… “Knowing the person who I was married to for 50 years, I would have expected that Richard would have been angry and bitter, possibly putting the blame on someone. But just being in the Waipuna Hospice atmosphere, he just said ‘okay, I accept it and see what’s happening’. Everything was explained to us so well. We get it that death is imminent, but it’s not going to be that bad because we’re cared for here.” Lucy says an extremely difficult journey felt bearable for her and her family thanks to Waipuna Hospice staff.
While Christmas was usually a season filled with joy for the Ives, Richard’s condition continued to deteriorate, and it became clear this Christmas was going to be very different. Lucy says hospice staff guided them through the process, carefully explaining all the services and options available and delivering these services swiftly – “Everybody was helpful – we were just absolutely blown over by the care from so many different people. It was wonderful.”
Lucy says for the first time in Richard’s end-of-life journey, they felt ‘listened to’ at Waipuna Hospice. Lucy felt there was a lot of pressure elsewhere – they had been jumping around the health system, but “we came here and thought, oh, somebody’s looking out for us now.” Lucy describes how Richard liked to be in control and have a say in things – this was an important factor for him. Richard felt he was empowered to make his own decisions. “The other thing that made it so much easier here at Waipuna Hospice is you get a chance to have your say in the decision-making process – it feels like you are in control. You have a full understanding of what’s happening.”
“Our eldest son was absolutely blown away by Waipuna, which is why after the funeral, there was no other logical thing than for people to donate to Waipuna Hospice in lieu of flowers, and my son wanted to be a part of this. I’ve always been happy to support Waipuna Hospice because we know it’s close to Richard’s heart and you’ll never know when you might need them.
“My best friend lost her mum very recently just before Christmas. Her mum didn’t come into hospice for her final days. She chose to stay at home, but apparently the care from Waipuna Hospice was just amazing,” says Lucy. Small touches made the world of difference.
Lucy recalls the health system had many people telling them different things which felt overwhelming and confusing. Whereas “straight-talking Doctor Drummond was very concise, and the nurses were really helpful.” Richard came into Waipuna’s In-Patient Unit (IPU) for respite care. “Richard felt he was respected, and we have a huge amount of respect for all you do here. As it turned out, he didn’t go home. I was only here for five nights, but I cannot believe the amount of care we were given. Staff were just so easy to talk to – so understanding and supportive. He thought he’d won the lottery when they showed him his room. They bought three meals a day which were fantastic.”
Lucy remembers while the physical care and drugs were hugely important, it was “almost secondary – the emotional and mental support was most valuable not just for me, but for the entire family.”
Now two months on and with her family having returned to their homes, Lucy is starting to come to grips with living without Richard. After 50 years of having her husband by her side, Lucy now faces the heart-breaking reality of life alone. “I think the next few weeks are going to be harder than the past few weeks as it slowly sinks in. I can feel myself on the brink at the moment. I’m not as frightened about what’s ahead because I know that I can pick up the phone and speak to Karen [Waipuna Hospice Counsellor] and somebody will talk to me. I’m just glad I’ve got all this support. Sometimes it is just good to speak to somebody else. You don’t always want to constantly speak to your friends and family, and feel like a burden.”
Life is special. We never know how long we get and that is why we are encouraged to be grateful and live life to the full while we can. When it comes to our last days, it will no doubt be difficult. However, the level of this difficulty and how we cope could depend on the level of support around us.
Waipuna Hospice is there for people like Lucy and Richard who live away from loved ones and for everyone who requires end-of-life care.
Richard Thurlow – Waipuna Hospice CEO.
Please help us make end-of-life care available for all who need it by donating today.