Sarah, My Friend

Yesterday I sadly said goodbye to my lovely friend Sarah, who lost her fight with breast cancer. Throughout her illness Sarah remained positive, determined to live her life to the full, provide for her family and to have no regrets. She was a shining example to all those who knew her and will be missed by so many people. So this is my tribute to Sarah, an amazingly beautiful and brave friend.

When colleagues become friends

Sarah and I had been colleagues for some time, working within the same department, never working on the same team, but passing the time of day, chatting whilst we worked and occasionally working on an enquiry together.

Then, a supervisor made a decision that would change both our lives forever. The teams were shuffled around and Sarah and I began working together on a day to day basis. We were both a bit put out at first, not because we didn’t like each other, or couldn’t work together, but because we were both quite happy on our own teams, we had our own friends, but we decided to make the best of it and crack on with our work.

I am eternally grateful for that decision. Working with Sarah brought us closer and we soon realised that we had quite a lot of things in common, crafting, reading, musicals travelling, amongst other things, but we also had the same ethics. We both valued family life, knew how important our friends were and were both determined in our work to provide the best service that we possibly could to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

When the teams were re-shuffled, Sarah and I continued to be firm friends both in and out of work. We were able to talk about anything, had some amazing experiences and supported each other through some really difficult times.

A shock diagnosis

Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was called for an early mammogram due to a trial in the local health authority. She had no symptoms at all, but it was discovered that her cancer was already well developed and she was swiftly taken into hospital for a mastectomy, followed by gruelling rounds of chemotherapy. Although Sarah knew that her cancer was incurable, she certainly didn’t take that lying down. She did this without complaining, always smiling and having a firm belief that when one treatment wasn’t working, there would be another one that would.

She was determined to live her life to the full and no matter how ill she was she always had time for her family and friends. She cared for both her girls and her mum, despite being exhausted some days. She told me often that she was not afraid of dying, but was always concerned about the effect that her death would have on other people. She was reluctant to let people know when she was suffering and always had a goal to work towards.

Sometimes there were tears, when she was clearly worried, particularly in relation to her two daughters, but generally when you asked her how she was she would say that she was doing alright.

The hardest time was a few weeks ago, when her treatment was stopped and she knew that there was nothing else that could be done. She was initially rocked by the news, but again set about making plans for her family, dealing with unfinished business and trying to make things as easy as she could for those around her.

Sarah never stopped fighting and was determined to keep active for as long as possible and it was only in the last few days of her life that she was unable to do this. She was able to be cared for at home and spend the time that she had left with her family and close friends. I feel blessed to have been able to spend time with her, not only in the last few weeks, but over the last few years. I am also really grateful to her family for allowing me to be there and to the other friends who have given unending support.

A lesson in living a good life

I have learned a lot from being friends with Sarah. Mostly that you should live a good life, not waste time complaining about the things that life throws at you, but to accept those things and do all the things you want to do anyway.

It is true that none of us know how long we have left with our family and friends. Sarah taught me that it’s important to make each moment count. Take pleasure in the little things. Make goals for your life, no matter how small they are. Don’t let small things grow into big problems and don’t put off things that you really want to do. Try not to bear a grudge and remember that a small  kindness can be a huge thing to someone else.

I am definitely a better person for knowing Sarah and I hope that some of her kindness and selflessness has rubbed off on me.

Long lasting memories

I didn’t want to end this blog on a sad note as Sarah would definitely not approve of that. Everyone that knew her will have their own memories, from nights out, lunches at the Ivy, theatre trips, Christmas do’s and many other celebrations. There are so many memories, some of which I talked about in my previous blogs,  but here are just a couple of my favourites

Sarah wanted to raise money for Breast Cancer Care and talked myself and Sharon into taking part in the moonwalk. This was a 26 mile walk, through London, in the middle of the night, wearing a decorated bra. This was a tough but amazing experience. Sarah encouraged us around the whole 26 miles, never losing her enthusiasm. When we reached the finishing line the following morning, Sarah was the only one out of all three of us that was still able to walk around. It was through this experience on the night and the training before hand that I got to know Sharon and we have been able to support each other and I hope we will continue to do so in the future.

In February this year Sarah and I went on an overnight stay to a spa. We had a lovely relaxing couple of days in some very luxurious surroundings. We were able to spend some quality time together, talked, laughed and cried. As Sarah was feeling quite tired at this stage, we weren’t exactly party animals and ended up tucked up in bed at 9pm, with a bottle of prosecco, watching Love Island.

 

I know that it will be hard over the coming weeks,  months  and years as we will all miss Sarah so much, but I will do my best to remember the good times, to focus on the laughter rather than the tears and to live the best life that I can.

Sleep well Sarah you’ve earned your rest.

I will look for you in the colours of the rainbow, the brightest star and the prettiest snowflakes.

A Fitting Farewell

I’m not sure if it appears strange to write in a blog about a funeral. The last few weeks of my dad’s life were really hard and I thought that the funeral would be too, but although it was a difficult day, I write this feeling very peaceful and calm, honestly believing that my dad is now at rest. Yesterday, the funeral was very sad in many ways, but mostly it was a celebration of his life and a chance for us to share our memories.

Well Made Plans

Although dad was a great storyteller, he was never someone who really discussed personal issues or emotions. I guess he comes from that era of “stiff upper lip”. However, a few days before he died, during the night he sat in the living room with me and my mum and told us what he wanted us to do when he died. This made planning dad’s funeral a much easier process.

He said that he didn’t want a massive fuss, he didn’t want a fancy coffin or to spend a fortune on flowers. He wanted to be cremated.  He chose the music that he wanted, said that he wanted to go to church, but most importantly of all, he wanted us to be together as a family and he wanted to go on a bus.

Dad was a massive fan of buses and trams throughout his life, so it was inevitable that this would appear somewhere in his final wishes. We discussed as a family that it would probably mean hiring a bus and travelling together as a family to scatter dad’s ashes. However when we began to discuss this with the funeral director, it became apparent that in the world of funerals, almost nothing is impossible.

Special Messages Or Coincidences

Yesterday dawned, clear, bright and sunny. It reminded me of days when we would be complaining that it was cold and dad would say “It will be too hot to walk about by dinner time”. I was awake early and was watching the news. There was an interview with Michael Caine and during it they showed a clip of the film “Zulu”. This was my dad’s favourite film ever! At that moment in time I felt that dad really was watching over us and that all would be well.

Just What He Wanted

All the family met at my mum’s house. We were all quite anxious. Me and my brothers had all chosen to be involved in the service. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who doubted that I would actually be able to hold it together at the time.

Dad’s hearse then arrived. This was a vintage red London bus. It was really emotional to see my dad’s coffin inside initially, but then we knew that it was the right thing. He would have loved travelling on the bus and it also meant that as a family we were all able to go to the funeral together.

When we arrived at the church it was moving to see how many people were there. The first hymn was “The day thou gavest Lord is ended”. My older brother, sang the first verse as a solo. A very brave thing to do, which he managed with hardly a wobble in his voice. I manged to read a poem ” Remember me”, by Anthony Dowson. I had a few wobbles, but managed to get through it with a few pauses for deep breaths. My youngest brother then read a eulogy, which contained some lovely memories of dad. Again he held it together throughout.

We then had the hymn “I vow to thee my country”. We picked this as dad had been a rugby fan and liked a rousing patriotic hymn.

Afterwards we had a slideshow of photographs which were accompanied by Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez. Dad asked for this music as he loved the film “Brassed Off” and this particular part, where the piece of music is referred to by the band as “Orang Juice”. The photos were very moving, but there were also some really happy memories of dad and of us together as a family.

At the end of the service we left the church to  “Land of Hope and Glory” Dad had asked for this music, which we were we going to sing as a hymn, but we realised when making the plans that it is not actually a hymn and that other than the chorus from last night of the proms, no one actually knew any more of it.

After church we went to the crematorium, which was the hardest part of the day. Mum had chosen two songs from my dad’s favourite singer, Doris Day. On arrival we had “Que sera sera” and on leaving we had “I will always love you”. It was difficult leaving the crematorium, knowing that we had finally said goodbye to dad.

 

 

 

 

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Getting Together

We then went on our final bus journey to the local Golf Club, to celebrate dad’s life and share memories of him. It was lovely to chat about the good times we have shared as a family and as friends, what we will do in the future and to know that we had done the best that we could do to give him a good send off.

Families can be funny things and our family is no different. There are always people that you are closer to and those that are not so close. There are celebrations, disputes, disagreements, laughter and tears. There are those that you get on with really well and those who you have little in common with. There are friends who support you through the hardest times who become as close as family. There are those friends that you don’t see for ages, but are there when it counts. Yesterday,  we all worked together as a team and made it a day to remember, just as my dad wanted.

A Few Thank You’s

In ending this I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has sent good wishes, cards and flowers to me and my family. For those who have helped to support us over the last few weeks in every way. For those who have put up with the varied emotions that I have gone through, particularly my husband and children who have had to live with me.

In particular I would also like to thank

The nurses and carers that looked after my dad in his last days

Andrew Box and everyone at the funeral directors, Eric F Box, who did everything possible to grant my dads, last wishes, making the planning less painful and helping the day go smoothly and of course, finding “the bus”

Father Martin Naylor and Tineke Bentley and those at Batley Parish Church for the warm welcome, prayers, eulogy and commendation

Hanging Heaton Golf Club, for the food, drinks and lovely surroundings

And lastly to my mum, who is an amazingly strong lady, who has lived through so much and faced it with strength and dignity, an example to us all.

 
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When “The System” Fails

I haven’t written a blog for some time, as you read on, the reasons will become clear. I write this with the sad news that my dad died yesterday after a frustrating and difficult few weeks, which were made harder by failings within the “system” and a lack of communication. This is not meant to be a rant and it certainly isn’t a slight on anyone who works in any of the areas that I have mentioned. As you read on, or if you have been through this experience, you will know that people working within “end of life care” deserve a medal.

Early Days

Almost three years ago, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer which soon spread into his bones. He was treated with hormone injections and also had some radiotherapy for the pain in his neck and back. He is 83 years of age and has a number of other health problems too. Sometimes he was really positive, but other times it felt like he had given up. In any event he has managed to live fairly well for three years. with a few hiccups along the way.

Long Hospital Stay

My dad had started falling a bit at home so about 7 weeks ago we got him a care alarm, to help him and my mum. Within days he had fallen. My mum used the alarm and an ambulance came and took him to hospital. He didn’t have any injuries, but was very confused and disorientated. Then followed a long stay in hospital, various infections and another fall.

Some of the individual staff in the two hospitals that he stayed in were committed, caring and compassionate and a credit to their profession. Some were not so good, including staff that were disinterested, patronising and sometimes downright rude. I know that everyone is busy and overworked, I work for the public sector myself, and know how frustrating it is to be lacking in resources,  but the treatment of vulnerable elderly people in hospital should be absolutely top notch across the board.

The lack of information for us as a family was frustrating, leaving us feeling that we were being annoying or difficult if we asked questions about his care. A decision was made that he was medically fit for discharge about three weeks ago and arrangements could be made for him to come home.

I may be naïve, but I thought that being elderly and having a terminal illness would qualify you for care, but apparently not. When I started contacting Social Care and other organisations, I soon realised that the first thing that agencies want to know is how much money they have in the bank.

After a fall in hospital, where dad tried to get out of bed on his own when the fire alarm went off, dad was placed on a ward with constant supervision. He had stopped eating at this point and varied from being alert and chatty to being confused and disorientated.

Last Friday the decision was made that dad could be taken home. No one gave us any information, choices or assistance. We only found out he was being discharged when we went to ask staff what was happening. We were told that dad would get carers four times a day, but didn’t need any other care as he could mange quite well and would need to deteriorate a lot more before he required other help

The week from hell

My dad was brought to my mum’s house at 530 on Saturday evening. Mum (who is 82 years old) was at home on her own. Dad was sat on the settee and left with a bag full of medication. I went up to stay with her as I was worried that she may not be able to manage him.

At 730pm dad decided that he wanted to go to bed, so me and mum helped him into bed. I then started a series of phone calls and found out that no one within the community. who would be responsible for assisting us, had been informed that dad had been discharged from hospital.

The first night was extremely hard. Dad was in pain, distressed and confused. He wanted to get in and out of bed all the time, assisted by me and mum. He didn’t sleep at all. By the next morning we were exhausted and honestly considering putting him in a nursing home.

During the morning, the carer from the end of life team arrived, as did the district nurses. They were so supportive and gave us so much more information and assistance than the hospital ever had. It was the first time that any actually told us that dad had a matter of weeks to live.

With the assistance of these marvellous people and support from members of the extended family, me, my mum and brothers manged between us to look after dad over the next few days. It was one of the most difficult and exhausting things that I have ever done. There was some really traumatic times, but also some really warm and loving chats.

Dad died, peaceful at last, at his home with his family. There were times when I thought we would never get through it, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I have to say a massive thank you to the many carers and nurses who have spent time with my dad and my family over the last few days. The job that they do is worth more than any money could buy.

A last word

I would say to anyone who is caring for elderly or sick relatives, that it is worth the time looking on the internet or speaking to organisations and finding out your options and entitlements. This will make things so much easier to get the help that you need early on. I’m not sure if it’s the same everywhere, but we were truly in the dark about what was happening to dad. Had someone explained the kind of behaviour and symptoms he might display, before sending him home from hospital, those few days would have been so much easier.

Also I would say that you find out who you can rely on very quickly and that some people distance themselves very quickly. I can understand why some people don’t want to visit a person who is dying as it isn’t a nice thing to see. I also understand that it may bring back memories of your own loved ones. I know that it’s not always easy to find the right words to say to a family who’s loved one is dying. Just remember that it can be a very lonely place. Sometimes all you need to do is call in and say hello, hold someone’s hand or give them a hug. It means the world and, as hard as it is, it will be the best thing that you could ever do.