Kathryn shares how we brought care, comfort and calm in her dad’s final days

Kathryn Fisher’s father, Michael David Miles, was cared for by Herriot Hospice Homecare at his home in Northallerton, after being diagnosed with terminal lung and liver cancer. Our HOME service brought calm and care in his final days…

“Dad served as an RAF medic for 22 years, and we have very happy family memories of travelling a lot due to this. Unfortunately, a deteriorative spinal injury took him away from this work. He also underwent major bowel surgery, was left with complications after a big hernia repair, had bronchiectasis and prostate cancer all before the diagnosis of terminal lung and liver cancer. The way he accepted what was happening was quite astonishing. I think maybe part of him was in denial, but having experienced the loss of my much loved brother-in-law in similar circumstances 6 months prior, I think he was mindful of how impossibly hard it was going to be for us all after he had gone. He never wanted a fuss about anything in his life, so this was fitting, and I feel he cared for and about us always.

Below: Michael David Miles, Kathryn’s dad

“We discovered the cancer had gone to his brain a few weeks before he died. He was in hospital and had very distressing dysphasia and was so poorly. Thanks to Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital and the team there, he made it home for a few more weeks, after thinking we wouldn’t get him home from hospital. We knew then that it was terminal but didn’t really expect the end to come so quickly.

“For a few weeks in Spring 2023, our family (myself and my sister, Elizabeth Price, included) cared for Dad, and we were managing with visits from district nurses. But there came a point where Mum decided we couldn’t take any more and needed to look after ourselves by accessing support for his care. Thanks to Herriot Hospice Homecare, I could tell he was comfortable which was so precious. It felt ok to leave two strangers with dad whilst me and mum had some mother-daughter time for half an hour. After weeks of not leaving Dad’s side, Mum felt comfortable and confident to leave him to go to the bathroom, make a drink or do a spot of gardening.

Below: Michael and Patricia, Kathryn’s parents

“The way they helped during such a short time of just over a week, was fantastic. Dad was deteriorating every day so the HOME team didn’t know what they would be faced with each visit. I don’t know how they managed it, but they brought calm to the house. My dad was in his most vulnerable, poorly state but Herriot staff came and gave him dignity – they helped him be him. On top of getting him clean, changing the bedding and his position in the bed, they combed his hair and made him look like him again. Even though he couldn’t really communicate, we knew he was clean, as comfortable as he could be and was safe.

“It felt like they actually cared – they saw him as a person and not an illness. They saw a dad, a husband a grandad. When Herriot Hospice Homecare staff talked to me and Mum, they listened, didn’t rush our conversations, gave us advice put a hand on our shoulders and made us really feel like we knew them, and they cared for us.

“I’ve seen that end of life care can help people to live their final days – it doesn’t have to mean pain and suffering. The speed of Dad’s decline was traumatic to see, but I have happy memories too. For example, he pretty much lost the ability to talk and swallow, but eating ice cream was possible. In those final days, ice cream was an absolute joy for him, and I could see him really savouring it. It must have been so refreshing because he didn’t have the strength to keep him mouth closed and had such a dry mouth. His last words I heard were ‘that’s an idea!’, when asked if he wanted ice cream. He always loved it and never turned it down. It became a little joke between us and is a very special memory for me now.

“When my dad died, all his close family were sat with him and held his hands – it was his wish to be at home. I can’t imagine the thought of missing this moment, which may have been a reality if he was being cared for far away. We decided to give half of the collection from dad’s funeral to the Herriot Hospice@The Lambert matched funding campaign, because having a local hospice building is a real comfort.

Below: Kathryn and husband Bryn, Patricia and Michael, Elizabeth and daughters Freya and Evie

“I can’t express how much I miss him and how my brain still can’t process it. The daily reality of having to remind myself that he’s gone is heartbreaking. I am so, so lucky to have had such a close bond to him (and my mum). But, with that, come the heartache of the huge loss. It’s a trade-off that’s worth it though.

Below: Michael and Kathryn

“I know that the door isn’t closed on the care that Herriot Hospice Homecare can give me and my family. They call to see how I’m getting on, they inform me about grief, and who to contact if I want to talk.

“As a family we’ve supported Herriot Hospice Homecare in a few ways – we play the lottery, at Christmas time, we dedicated a light in memory of my brother-in-law, and I plan to dedicate a light to him and my dad this year.”

 

Our HOME service offers practical, social and emotional support to help you live at home with confidence, independence and dignity, as well as personalised, compassionate care at home at the end of life. To find out more, visit https://www.herriothh.org.uk/how-we-help/living-with-terminal-illness/care-and-support-at-home/.

And if you would like to share your story with us to help us illustrate the difference that our care makes, we’d love to hear from you and would be so grateful. Please email admin@herriothh.org.uk.

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