Pilgrims Hospices help family make lasting memories during COVID-19
In January 2021, Malcolm Ball from Oare near Faversham was referred to Pilgrims for pain management of his terminal colorectal cancer.
He and partner Amanda Brown decided they wanted to become civil partners; they’d been together 20 years but never married.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities to do this were limited, but Pilgrims helped to make it happen and give the family memories that will last forever.
COVID-19 has presented unique challenges for hospice care, with restrictions impacting on peoples’ end-of-life experiences. Despite this, Pilgrims has adapted and continued to go above and beyond for patients and families in these extraordinarily difficult times.
After a few weeks in the Canterbury hospice, Malcolm found that not only was his pain stabilised, but also that the hospice itself came to feel like a refuge. He made friends with other patients and staff, particularly Steve Allwright, a Healthcare Assistant (HCA).
Amanda said: “It made an enormous difference to him that Pilgrims staff were always on call, ensuring he received the best care. Steve felt like a friend to Malcolm and made the hospice feel like a home away from home.
“Everyone at Pilgrims went beyond the call of duty to look after us, both emotionally and physically. Martyn Yates, Spiritual Care and Complementary Therapy Lead, was fantastic in helping us organise our civil partnership. We planned for it to happen in Sittingbourne but Malcolm was very poorly by the set date, so with Martyn’s help we sought an exceptional licence to marry in our own home.
“However, when the day came, Malcolm was anxious and didn’t think he’d be able to leave the hospice, which had become a place of sanctuary and safety for him. With his sister, Karen, and brother-in-law, Tim, waiting outside to bring him home, our plans looked in jeopardy.
“Steve, who was off work that day, gave up his time to come in and chivvy Malcolm into the car: “Do you want to get married?” Malcolm replied yes, so Steve said, “Well come on then, I’ll come with you, let’s go”. And with that Malcolm came home for a fantastic ceremony surrounded by flowers. Our son, Emil, and his partner, Tracy, were witnesses. We couldn’t have a party due to lockdown, but the ceremony was broadcast via Zoom to family and friends near and far.”
Steve added: “During the time Malcolm spent with us, I got to know him quite well. Even through his tough days we always had time to chat and I was honoured to accompany him to his wedding. Amanda was a tower of strength during Malcolm’s illness and he could not have picked a better partner to help him through his journey. It was a privilege to have known them both.”
Steve also helped Malcolm produce a voice recording to leave as a legacy for Amanda, using The Blackbird Project initiative developed by Pilgrims.
Steve said: “One Saturday morning, Malcolm and I sat down and scripted an agenda of his life with Amanda; there were around twenty five parts to his story. Once we had put this in place, Della Green, Occupational Therapist, recorded Malcolm’s story with him, which was then transferred to a memory stick and given to Amanda. I think it was one of the longest recordings ever made since the conception of The Blackbird Project, over an hour long.”
Amanda added: “It feels very special being able to hear Malcolm’s voice now, talking about our life together. It’s hard too while things are still raw, but I know that having the recording of him speaking about some of the things that meant the most to us both will be a lasting comfort.”
In those last days, everyone at Pilgrims did all they could to allow me as much time as possible with Malcolm, calling me back overnight when there were changes, and I was able to be with him at the end. That care and consideration has done much to ease the trauma of the last year.
Malcolm stayed at home for three weeks after the ceremony before returning to the hospice for his final days, as he had wanted.
Amanda continued: “In those last days, everyone at Pilgrims did all they could to allow me as much time as possible with Malcolm, calling me back overnight when there were changes, and I was able to be with him at the end. That care and consideration has done much to ease the trauma of the last year.
“Pilgrims is the most amazing place. I feel so lucky, as I know Malcolm did, that we were able to benefit from the care offered. If only there could be a Pilgrims or other such hospice everywhere; to have that level of individual attention and care is something I wish for everyone.
It’s been such a comfort since Malcolm’s death to be able (with a little licence) to talk about us as husband and wife, and to have the memory of our wedding in our living room, with the support and love of family and friends watching it online, however distant. I hadn’t realised how important it would feel to me, but it means the world.
“And as for our civil partnership ceremony, it wouldn’t have happened without the enormous generosity and pure kindness of all the staff involved; Steve above all, but also everyone who went above and beyond. On the day itself, when I started to think it might all fall through if Malcolm couldn’t get home, I discovered that behind the scenes, Pilgrims and the register office staff had been working together to try to ensure it could happen.
“It’s been such a comfort since Malcolm’s death to be able (with a little licence) to talk about us as husband and wife, and to have the memory of our wedding in our living room, with the support and love of family and friends watching it online, however distant. I hadn’t realised how important it would feel to me, but it means the world.”