Hospice care gave my family the chance to say goodbye to our Dad

editorial image

As the Foyle Hospice marks its 25th anniversary today, journalist Leona O’Neill recalls her own family’s memories of a peaceful place. Her father, William J. Breslin, was a patient in the Hospice in October 2009.

Two year’s ago my father’s prostate cancer went from manageable to terminal.

He had battled the disease for four years before that day the doctors told him there was nothing more they could do.

Over the next few weeks and months my Dad – who was a strong-willed, fiercely independent man – got sicker and weaker and eventually so tired that his legs couldn’t carry his weight.

We managed at home for a time, our family rallying around, trying our best to function under a black cloud that my Dad’s illness had brought over our lives.

Monica from the Foyle Hospice was a regular visitor to our house. She listened when Dad needed to talk, she was there with a shoulder when we needed to cry, she knew all the answers when confusion, fear and frustration overwhelmed us. She was honest, caring and comforting.

Dad didn’t want to go to a hospice, he wanted to stay at home with us, but as he entered the last few weeks of his life, and his body shut down, we all knew we needed extra help with his care and the Hospice offered Dad respite care.

I was at work when my sister and Mum drove Dad to the Foyle Hospice. As I sat at my desk I could only imagine what was going through his mind when he left the home he shared with my Mum for 40 years and made his way down the tree-lined avenue that led to the Foyle Hospice.

He was met at the door by a beaming nurse who showed him his comfy, cosy room, complete with TV and glorious view over the fields and Foyle Bridge.

When I arrived later that evening I found that in just a few hours the doctors and nurses had assessed him and made him comfortable – so comfortable that he was like his old self again, raving about the ensuite bathroom and asking what time the Man City match was starting. They took away his pain, eased his concerns, brought back his humour. The Hospice gave us our Dad back for a few weeks.

For the next few weeks we circled around that room, around our new family headquarters, like satellites. Dad was kept happy and comfortable with constant care from the Hospice doctors and nurses. They treated him with dignity and grace. Nothing was too much trouble for them. He raved about the Hospice chef who, hearing how he loved lemon merangie pie, fashioned him one from scratch and delivered a slice to his room with a mug of hot tea.

They set up his WiFi connection so he could view photographs of his brand new grandson, the first to carry the Breslin name.

The Hospice was not somewhere my father went to die; in many ways it brought him back to life, back to us, before he passed away.

I would often arrive in the afternoons to find Bishop Daly and himself debating world politics animatedly, him joking with the nurses, my mum and him out in the garden, looking out over the city where they met, married and raised four children.

They handled everything physical, mental and emotional so that my father felt no pain at all in the final weeks of his life. He slept well, he was comfortable, he ate, he caught up with old friends that came to see him, he laughed. For that we will be eternally grateful.

The peace they gave him allowed us, in those final weeks, to be a family.

They afforded us the time to talk, to just be together in a beautiful, peaceful environment without beeping and whirring machines.

I often sat in the communal room. It was a peaceful place for reflection, filled with awe-inspiring paintings and art donated by the families of loved ones whose lives the Hospice touched in a positive way.

I remember reading a poem in a frame. It said…

“When the natural exhultation of this day fades into the reality of daily life, the doors of this hallowed place will welcome its first patients. For them the shadows will have lengthened, their evening has come, their busy world has hushed, the fever of life is all but over and the work is all done.”

My Dad knew when he was almost at the end of his own journey and requested to go home. The Hospice, knowing how very ill he was, respected his wishes and organised a team of nurses to help our family with his care.

He arrived home by ambulance on a sunny Tuesday November afternoon. Within the hour the nurses were there with us, explaining how his hi-tech bed worked, about his medication.

He wanted to come home and be surrounded by his family, his books, the sound of the trees and his grandchildren playing in the garden.

The nurses - Una, Paula and a band of girls - prepared us for what was to come. They gently helped us get ready to let him go. They kept Dad pain-free and happy. They talked, they listened, they answered our difficult questions openly and honestly. They picked us up from the floor when we couldn’t go on, they held our hands through it all.

Monica from the Hospice was a constant visitor. As Dad neared the end she spoke to us. I remember her standing by the window in Mum’s living room telling us that we must prepare ourselves and gather the family, that the end was very near for my father.

The sun was shining through her blonde hair, giving her a halo of sorts. Like all the staff in the Hospice, she was an angel on earth, doing God’s work.

My family will be forever grateful to all of them for the care they gave Dad and us during his illness.

My father passed away at home surrounded by his family on November 17th 2009.

He was 69 years-old. He was husband to Gloria, father to Aidan, Carla, me and Cathal and proud grandfather to eight grandchildren.

It is still difficult to see a landscape that doesn’t include him. Yet I see him every time my youngest son smiles, I feel him in my spirit.

When I’m lost, up he pops - philosophical, intellectual, consoling. He’ll forever be my guiding light.

The Foyle Hospice will formally mark it’s 25th anniversary with the opening of the Courtyard Garden at the Hospice on Thursday June 23rd at 6.30pm. The Hospice will also host the Strictly Come Dancing extravaganza on Friday the 24th and Saturday the 25th of June in the Everglades Hotel. Tickets and more information are available from the Hospice on 02871 359888.