When Sam Newman lost his Grandmother to cancer, it was Wakefield Hospice that helped him remember her as she was once was – a social butterfly. Here’s their story…
I’ve always been extremely close to my Grandma, or Willow as I called her. We had a willow tree in our back garden, where we sat and she nurtured my kindred imagination – well she had such a vivid one herself. She always lived in the moment, frequently sang in public and spoke to strangers. Of course in my awkward teens this was undeniably cringe worthy. In hindsight, I realise that there aren’t enough people like that in the world.
In 2005 Willow was diagnosed with osteoporosis, resulting in wedge fractures in her spine, causing her agonising pain. Willow, a lover of nature and music, a singer and dancer was bed-bound and on morphine. I still relished the time we spent together because she was my best friend but watching her deteriorate became extremely hard. Her spirit and sparkle were still there for sure but waned after years of pain and being cooped up. She was a social butterfly. She longed to feel the warmth of the sun on her skin again. Every time I visited her, I contemplated how the world was missing out on her acts of kindness and love. See, I think it’s the ordinary, simple, everyday ways of folk that can make the world a better place.
Moving to the Hospice
Willow wanted to be out of pain and she became extremely frail. In 2015, we received the devastating news that she had terminal cancer with a prognosis of only a few months. Following the news and after a couple of stays in hospital, she returned home with my uncle Steve, later deciding it was time to go to the local hospice. I had never seen her look so ill. There’s an irony really isn’t there? Such a tiny old lady being someone’s hero, but she was. She had incredible strength, having endured ten years of pain so graciously.
When I first went to visit her in the hospice, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What would it be like? I was apprehensive and nervous. I had absolutely no need to be. There was my golden girl stood up, singing to other patients. It was magical. I hadn’t heard her sing like that for years and her sweet gentle voice moved me to tears. Willow was back. She clasped my hands as she finished ‘Downtown’ by Petula Clark, one of her favorites. The lyrics encapsulated her philosophy and zest for life. I wasn’t embarrassed like I had been in the past. I was proud because I could see the copious amounts of joy she had brought into the room. She held my hand and took me to her bedside where she recited ‘Child of my Child’, a poem she wrote on the day I was born.
No-one could make me feel as special as she did.
Easy to Forget
In the weeks that followed, Willow told me how happy she was that she had seen me meet my long-term partner Nick, who she adored. I reassured her “You’ll always be my number one.” She liked that and she knew I meant it sincerely (and so did Nick)! She always asked about our house that we were in the process of renovating. I’d named it ‘Willow Cottage’ after her. We reminisced about the past, dug out old treasures and photographs and we laughed for hours. It was wonderful. It was easy to forget that she was dying. We continued to visit the hospice and Willow continued to radiate. I hadn’t seen her this happy in a long time and it really soothed my soul.
As a family, we cannot thank the staff at Wakefield Hospice enough. Not just for the syringe driver they provided and the medication, but for how much they adored Willow and how they affectionately sang with her, did her hair, used lavender oil on her hands and painted her nails.
Watching Over You
Willow passed away peacefully in her sleep after a month at the hospice, or ‘heaven’ as she called it. I was heartbroken, but I took great comfort in her final words to me “Remember your Grandma is always watching over you.”
A few days after she passed away, I was pottering around in the house when I heard my neighbor playing acoustic guitar in his garden. It was beautiful. Usually, I would be too embarrassed to remark but that evening, I felt obliged to. I opened the window and said “You play so beautifully, you’re so talented; I am going to leave my window open so I can hear you properly.” He thanked me and we chatted for a while. I came back inside and glanced in the mirror. Willow was staring back at me, smiling.
By Sam Newman.