A Very Touching And Heartbreaking Story From St Catherine's

11 Feb 2019

“I’m lucky that I had the most amazing man in my life”

To tie in with Valentine’s Day, Valerie Phelps from Crawley, reflects on the care her husband Les received from St Catherine’s Hospice.

“My husband, Les, was an amazing man and the kindness he always gave out was rewarded with the kindness and care he received from the Community Team at St Catherine’s Hospice.

Les was a straightforward, military, no fuss man. He had the biggest heart and said few words. Some days, we would spend the whole time in each other’s company hardly saying a word to each other, unless he wanted a cup of tea which was often! My family always believed that I was the stronger of the two of us and the one who pulled all the strings. But how wrong they were! I’m actually the weaker of us. It was Les who managed our home in every way, with his quiet nature, kindness and love for me, his family and anyone else who needed his help.

When St Catherine’s Community Team first became involved with Les, it came across that I was the strong one. But as the nurses came to know him, they realised he was an amazingly strong man. And although a man of few words, the few he spoke, often spoke volumes. Together, I and the hospice nurses, who helped manage Les’s pain, had to do things slowly as he wasn’t only battling cancer and facing end of life, but was also battling PTSD from his time in the military. During that time I learnt things about my husband that he’d always shielded from me before. His drugs started to bring out the horrors of what he had gone through at different times in the forces, but fortunately for him he remembered very little of this.

When the consultant first mentioned referring Les to St Catherine’s, it was like he’d thrown a brick at Les’s head. To Les, a hospice just meant a bed, a room and him dying alone with strangers. He was inconsolable for several days until a St Catherine’s nurse came to see him at home.

I was absolutely amazed at the courage he managed to find in making the decisions he did after speaking with her for the first time. It was a great comfort to know that we could speak openly and honestly with the hospice team and to know that Les’s wish of dying at home was going to be met, if possible. Although we were aware that if there were complications he may have to go to the hospital or the hospice.

As the weeks progressed, Les decided that he would like to speak with the hospice chaplain after finding his baptism certificate. The first time, we did this together as Les was becoming weaker and I had to be his voice, but even then, Les made Lisa, the chaplain, and I laugh. Les had a few more sessions with Lisa alone and the peace she left in him helped us both. Her kindness and understanding to me in losing someone I’ve loved since I was teenager was also amazing.

When the time came, I could see Les’s eyes glazing over. I kept asking if he was in pain and he said no, just uncomfortable. I told Les I loved him and that I didn’t want to lose him, but that I wouldn’t beg him to stay. Our son, Neil put his arms around his Dad, and gently whispered to him that his two brothers (who’d already passed away) were waiting for him at the bar and that the older one had his hand in his pocket. He told his dad that it was okay for him to go as he shouldn’t miss the opportunity of a free drink!

We put Les’s cat, Luna, on the bed and ten minutes later, with two sweet silent breaths my wonderful man left me in the way he wanted. Peacefully in his own home with his family around him. It was something that was only possible thanks to St Catherine’s expert support and wonderful team.

Although Les’s loss has been hard to bear, I’m lucky that I had the most amazing man in my life. People reading this may think it’s painful for me to share this, and in a way it is, but in another way it’s also helping me to heal as getting the message about St Catherine’s out there to people in the wider community is so very important. It’s important that the perception of hospice care and what it means is changed. Yes, there will be people who have to be in the actual hospice, because that’s their choice, or because they aren’t lucky enough to have the family or amazing network of support around them that we did, but the majority of people are looked after, and able to stay at home.

Without St Catherine’s, I don’t know how we, as a family, would have got through things. And that’s the point I want to get across to everyone. With the hospice you’re not alone. Without people like the St Catherine’s team in our lives the world would be a very sad place. And that’s something I’ve come to realise. Although we never want to lose our loved ones, death doesn’t have to be as painful as we believe it will be.

I’m so glad I’ve had the privilege of St Catherine’s kindness, help and care for both my wonderful husband and myself.”

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