A Patient's Story - Derek Threlfall
Veronica Threlfall said when the time for her husband Derek came to leave, he died ‘with his toes in the sunshine’ at East Lancashire Hospice.
Veronica described Derek as a man who liked to live every day and explained how they never went on a holiday that was planned, they would simply look up and follow the blue sky. Derek was an Architect by profession, and together he and Veronica travelled the world including Austria, Italy and Germany. They also they lived in Canada where Derek built a theatre and travelled America and Mexico. Later with daughters Laura and Pippa, they also travelled the whole of Europe. Austria being special.
The couple’s first contact with the hospice had been in the form of two night’s support at home to enable full-time carer Veronica to get some much-needed rest.
“I had looked after Derek on my own until that point,” says Veronica. “The smiles from the hospice nurse soon put Derek and I at ease and I managed to get some sleep.
Prior to this when Derek had been less poorly, he and Veronica came to the hospice to have a look around. Veronica recalled how Derek with his architects hat on had said to her “They’ve done a perfect job here, there isn’t anything I could say that they could have added to improve the facility”.
Derek was later admitted to East Lancashire Hospice for pain management in the summer of 2016 on the advice of his doctors after undergoing numerous surgeries for cancer.
Veronica said: ‘The cancer that brought Derek to the hospice wasn’t his first. He had had a tumour removed from his face, he had had lung surgery but it had already spread into his bones.”
“He was in a lot of pain and it was suggested that Derek be admitted to the hospice for a few days to make him more comfortable.
“On the third day, we went to collect him from the hospice, but the doctor told us there was nothing more they could do. The hospice could be Derek’s home now.”
A devastated Veronica said: “We moved in lock, stock and barrel putting up photographs around Derek’s room. As the family room was occupied at the time there was no bed for me to stay, but having been in the Girl Guides I said ‘Do you not have a camp bed?’ and one was arranged for me, I borrowed a spare pair of Derek’s pyjamas and stayed with him from then on in. The morning after the first night, I popped into Derek’s bathroom and was extremely touched when I returned to see someone had made my bed for me”.
“The weather was beautiful and if we had been at home we would have been in the garden and at the hospice, we were able to replicate this. We sat in the hospice garden with Derek, listening to our favourite songs from Frank Sinatra and Neil Diamond”.
“Our daughters brought refreshments and nibbles for family and friends who were visiting – and the nurses even insisted on bringing us a bucket of ice to keep the drinks cool”.
“On the day that Derek passed away, I recall one of the staff saying to me “you are going to need more seating today” just as if he were able to think for us and he brought us another bench, cushions and an extra parasol to make everyone more comfortable in the garden”.
“Our grandson who lived in Australia was especially close to his Gramps and hadn’t seen him for two years. We were struggling to know what to do and didn’t want him to be mid-flight if Derek passed away. With some assistance from his father, we were able to arrange a flight home for him and on the day he flew back, there was a real sense of anticipation from everyone at the hospice including the staff who also eagerly awaited his arrival. Thankfully he was able to spend an hour with Derek before he passed away. Derek’s toes were in the sunshine, and he lay in his bed, surrounded by family. If we had to lose him, it couldn’t have been more perfect.”
Veronica recalls how the same funeral directors who collected Derek from the hospice were also with the family on the day of his funeral. “They enabled us to carry Derek to the tree we had chosen in his memory for him to lay – and where one day I will join him, completing his journey”.
Shortly afterwards, Veronica and her daughter Laura started speaking to various social groups about their experience with the hospice as well as fundraising on its behalf. Laura who works for 3M based in Clitheroe was also able to co-ordinate a team of her own colleagues and arrange for them to take some time off so together they could visit the hospice and plant some flowers and shrubs in the hospice gardens.
Brave Veronica went on to volunteer each Wednesday afternoon on Reception with her dog Chester and said it was an honour to be part of the team. She said: “I felt like I was giving something back having been on the other side of the desk and was privileged to wear my Volunteer Badge and be part of the hospice.”
Even now, Veronica will often come to the hospice and sit on the car park to remember Derek as that is where she feels closest to him given it was the last time they spent time together.