This will be my third Lights of Love as the CEO of Sobell House Hospice Charity, but the first where I too will be remembering and celebrating people very dear to me. Both my Mum and Dad, Geoffrey and Delia Foster, died in Sobell House this year, six months apart under the care of the same amazing consultant. It has been a very sad and challenging year, but the love, care, and support that the team at Sobell House surrounded us with made a terrible time easier.
Lights of Love has given me a chance to reflect on the life I lived with Mum and Dad, and how they spent their final days.
As a child, Mum and Dad made Christmas magical. Mum was a wonderful cook and always decorated the house beautifully. The excitement of Father Christmas leaving gifts, the delicious flaming Christmas pudding and the Christmas Eve Carols from Kings on Radio 3 are things I will never forget. Threading holly onto twine to make decorative chains was one of the pricklier memories I have from childhood Christmases, even if it did look lovely!
Dad loved to catalogue things and so every Christmas Day he would go into the garden and pick one of each flower that was in bloom and list it, creating a floral record of Christmas. He was also a keen player of charades and we loved to play together every Christmas. He would laugh a lot at his own jokes and would pretend to be a horse when we were tiny so we could ride around on his back.
Many years later, I came to work at Sobell House because I already knew how incredible hospices are and how much they support people to live well in the time that they have left as well as at the end of their lives, but I did not know when I started at Sobell House how much support my colleagues here would give our family.
Pictured: Mum and Dad on their wedding day
Pictured: Mum at Christmas
Pictured: Me and Dad last Christmas; his final Christmas day
I never felt like the CEO while Mum and Dad were in Sobell – I was a sad, tired daughter who was given the space, alongside my siblings, to sit with my loved ones and witness and be thankful for the incredible care given to all our patients. Everyone who cared for my parents – the community team, the OTs, the benefits adviser and the social work team, the consultants, the volunteer companions, the art and music therapists, the healthcare assistants, the housekeepers and admin teams and the nurses were all wonderful.
Mum and Dad spent 59 years of married life together, celebrating their last wedding anniversary in Sobell House, six days before he died. Tom, the music therapist, who had been working with Dad for a while, managed to find a laptop that we could play a video my brother-in-law had made for their 50th anniversary and we made a Victoria sponge filled with lots of cream and jam at Dad’s request. Days before, when Dad knew he was reaching the end of his life, he asked me to ensure that I had ordered a large bouquet of pink roses to be delivered to Mum on their anniversary, with the message ‘To my darling wife Delia, I will love you for ever, Geoff.’ Six months to the day after Dad died, my Mum was admitted to Sobell and died a few hours later. I really do not think they could last without each other. Mum had cared for Dad for many years, and towards the end he became her carer too, due to her Alzheimer’s. His most important wish was that she was looked after when he died.
I haven’t yet had time to process the loss of Mum and Dad, and I hope and think that Lights of Love will be a part of that process for me. I have always found Lights of Love beautiful and moving, and I have no doubt I will cry this year, as I have done every year. But I know now, more than ever, how incredible what we do is and how important it is that we raise enough funds to support everyone who needs our care. That is why I am writing this: to remember and celebrate my lovely Mum and Dad, to help others to do the same for their special people, and to help us be here for generations to come.
Thank you so much to Amelia for kindly sharing her family’s experience of Sobell House.