Craig Hammer from Folkestone had a very personal experience of Pilgrims Hospices when his dad, Otto Hammer, spent time in local hospice care during 2015-2016; both at Pilgrims Hospice Ashford and in the community. Here, Craig shares how Pilgrims supported Otto, and his family, to live well – and how getting creative has been an important part of his grieving process, one that he believes can help others.
There’s lots I could say about my dad, he was just wonderful – a funny, kind, gentle and wonderful human being. He was of German descent but lived in Guston, Dover until he was 15 and then Folkestone for the rest of his life. He was a carpenter, married to my mum for 48 years and had four children (I’m his youngest). I loved him very much and I’ve spent a long time trying to process and understand his death.
My experience of Pilgrims care
Dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer in April 2011. Over the course of the following 18 months he had several operations and in September 2013 was given the all clear. But in 2014 the cancer returned; by the end of that year Dad had started accessing Pilgrims Hospices services. He would go to the hospice for complementary therapies like massage, which helped with pain relief and was a great form of relaxation for him. As his primary carer, my mum, Barbara, also benefited from this. Dad’s condition deteriorated quite quickly throughout 2015, so the therapies offered to both of them by Pilgrims provided respite for her, too. As my dad became quite reluctant to socialise, it was one of the few things they were able to enjoy together.
There were so many things I appreciated about Pilgrims care, but what surprised me most was that it wasn’t at all clinical; this was a great comfort for Dad and our whole family.
Dad also went to Pilgrims outreach centre in Folkestone and was visited at home by a doctor. In 2015 he had his first stay at Pilgrims to manage pain. He was a regular visitor to Pilgrims Hospice Ashford in the last year of his life, going in for short spells and then returning home, until passing away at the hospice on 1 February 2016, aged 67.
“It was the little things that stood out”
There were so many things I appreciated about Pilgrims care, but what surprised me most was that it wasn’t at all clinical; this was a great comfort for Dad and our whole family. It was the little things that stood out, like Dad being offered and enjoying an evening drink. At Christmas he watched the carol singing from his room and sent me a video of it, and he also used the chapel occasionally (although more often his own church came to be with him; they would fill up the family room and pray and sing together). Dad also talked about the food at Pilgrims, which he enjoyed very much. Again, it’s such a simple thing but being offered good, tasty food was something he really valued.
The level of empathy we received as a family was outstanding. The hospice nurses knew us all; it was clear that although they were primarily there for Dad, they also supported us when we were visiting him.
Although it seems silly to acknowledge, the level of empathy we received as a family was outstanding. Dad had a big family with four children and 10 grandchildren, plus his extended family from church, who wanted to be with him as often as possible. The hospice nurses knew us all; it was clear that although they were primarily there for Dad, they also supported us when we were visiting him. Being able to stay with him was huge; Mum rarely left his side, and she was always welcomed and made comfortable. Some nights when I couldn’t sleep I’d go to see Dad after midnight; a nurse would always recognise me and let me in, and in the last few weeks of his life my sisters and I stayed at the hospice every night. We kept out of the way as best we could, but in reality the nurses and doctors had to work around us 24/7 and they did that brilliantly.
After Dad died we raised around £3,000 for Pilgrims by asking people to make a donation in lieu of flowers. A year later, I hosted a quiz in Folkestone that raised more than £1,000. Both were done to help our family through the grieving process; it’s lovely knowing that our fundraising will support other local families who are experiencing Pilgrims care.
How music has helped
During Dad’s illness music became a very personal way for me to deal with what was happening. I’ve enjoyed writing music my whole life; it just happens and I recognise that I’m lucky to have it in my DNA. The music I wrote changed tone in the last few months of Dad’s life, and then immediately after his death I was writing so much that I had armfuls of songs born out of that same feeling. All had him at the core – they were about him, our relationship or my feelings at the time.
Even though music had always been important to me I’d never actually recorded my own music, so this became my goal. Completing that process was hugely cathartic for me and enabled me to process my grief.
Even though music had always been important to me I’d never actually recorded my own music, so this became my goal. On the first anniversary of his death I was deliberately in the studio recording, and eventually an album was finished. It’s been released on iTunes and Spotify and naturally Dad is on the artwork. Completing that process was hugely cathartic for me and enabled me to process my grief. My band and I experienced both sad and funny moments – we talked about Dad and everyone wanted to do this for him and for me.
What I found hardest about Dad’s death was that my children would never know him – so in doing this I’ve ensured that, through me, they will have access to him. When they listen to the record or watch the video 20 years from now they will know just how important he was to me.
The video we made is important because I now document everything in my life; I have done since my first daughter was born. What I found hardest about Dad’s death was that my children would never know him – so in doing this I’ve ensured that, through me, they will have access to him. When they listen to the record or watch the video 20 years from now they will know just how important he was to me. This helps me to balance the fact that whilst they won’t know him personally, there is a way for him to exist for them; as long as someone will listen or watch, his memory will live on.
Craig and his band will play at ColeFest in Paddlesworth, near Folkestone, on Saturday 28 July 2018. This year’s festival will raise vital funds for Pilgrims Hospices; tickets can be purchased online now.
If you or someone you know is coping with a life limiting illness and you think you may benefit from Pilgrims free services as a patient or a carer, talk to your GP or Healthcare Professional about your options or click here to read about our Wellbeing and Social Programme.