The first year following someone’s passing is the hardest. There’s the first of everything. Birthdays. Christmas. Special dates only you and they shared together.
But last weekend, as Dolores and Meadbh Parr remembered their husband and father, they looked back in celebration.
Dolores explained: “We wanted to mark the occasion of John’s passing. So last Sunday we went to Mass at the Foyle Hospice, planted a tree in his memory in the grounds, visited his graveside - and then we hosted our family and friends as we remembered him with a party.”
And as the Foyle Hospice turn on their Christmas lights next week, Dolores sees it as a “lovely and symbolic way to remember John”.
The Parr family never expected to be involved with the Foyle Hospice. It was a place they were aware of but when John was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December 2010, it wasn’t long before they heard the word ‘hospice’ mentioned as part of his care.
Dolores said, “In August last year, while at the cancer clinic in Belfast the team said that John would need a blood transfusion, and that the best place to have that done would be the hospice.
“I vividly remember leaving that day and thinking we had just been given a death sentence.”
The next day John was in the Hospice, where he was to remain for almost four weeks, as they helped with his pain management and condition.
“They encouraged us to bring Meadbh in straight away and they were quickly involved in helping her understand what was happening to her daddy,
“Initially she produced drawings, which were then put up in her dad’s room, which was a lovely gesture.
“And as time went on, Meadbh was offered one-on-one counselling which was a fantastic help.”
As time passed it become clear that John was getting sicker, and when secondary cancer was diagnosed the Hospice helped the couple prepare their child for what inevitably lay ahead.
Dolores continued: “There is no easy, or right way, to tell a child that their parent is going to die. But the Hospice helped us immensely. They explained the difference between a hospital and a hospice and provided emotional support as well as practial help.
“John himself benefitted greatly from their counselling services. He was encouraged to write down his thoughts and feelings and there is no doubt that they helped him prepare for death.”
John also took the opportunity to write down his life story for Meadbh, so that she would always have a record of his life, as well as leaving birthday cards and a list of life lessons that he felt she would benefit from.
And Dolores believes that the emotional and spiritual aspect of the Hospice is as important as the medical attention each patient receives.
“Both Bishop Daly and Bishop Mehaffey were regular visitors to John’s bedside and they helped immensely to put John at ease and help him be at peace with death.”
Additionally, Meabdh was one of the first recipients of the Foyle Hospice’s Healing Hearts programme. Designed by co-ordinator Michelle Kosky it helps young people losing family members to understand the process.
Meadbh felt able to express herself at these sessions, creating “a memory box of dad’s things, and creating sand art with each layer representing different memories.”
For someone so young, she also has a profound message which she believes in, “When someone goes on, to the next stage of life, I think they send down someone else.” And the recent birth of a family member, is, Meadbh believes, her father sending down someone new.
It’s this outlook which her mother Dolores feels was nurtured by the Healing Hearts programme. She said: “I cannot speak highly enough of the work Michelle does, we still stay very much in contact with the Hospice and it is a place where we feel comfortable. It’s a place where I do not feel I need to speak for them to simply understand.”
Dolores has herself made use of their Post-Bereavement Counselling, with “someone who had spoken to John before he passed away, and it was so much easier for me to know that we had that connection. She was able to put my mind at ease about things I thought John might have been thinking. I was also given reflexology to help for the times when I found it hard to sleep, or simply give my mind a rest.”
Now, one year on from John’s death Dolores is also keen to highlight that everyone should listen to their own body.
“John was very aware of how he felt, he took great care of himself, and as soon as he thought something wasn’t right, he went straight to his doctor.
“Listening to yourself is so important. You are never ‘bothering’ a doctor, it is their job to care for us.”
And, as time passes, Dolores continues to recieve support from the Hospice.
“We can never thank them enough for helping us prepare for John’s final days. For taking away the fear and the shock of what we had to face. And now, one year on, I find myself continuing to reach out to them. It’s a place where we feel at ease.”
Light Up A Life Service
The Foyle Hospice Light Up A Life Appeal runs every year in the weeks before Christmas.
For each light sponsored, with a suggested donation of £5, the Hospice will send a special pin or Christmas card for each person honoured.
This year, the Light Up A Life service takes place on Thursday, December 13 at 8pm.
There will be an Inter-Denominational service conducted by the four hospice chaplains, afer which the lights will be switched on.