George's Story

Shared by George’s wife, Caroline.

George and I were married for 13 years and have three children together. Life was ticking along nicely, but in August 2011, while on holiday in Cornwall, George started to complain of a stomach ache. When we got home, the pain was so severe he had to take time off work. After seven gruelling months of investigations, we were told the devastating news that George had severe, life-threatening pancreatic cancer. He was 42 years old.

Following the diagnosis, George’s pain just got worse. Our friend was so concerned for him that she reached out to Sobell House. The team advised us to speak to George’s doctor who could refer us to their service and they could then arrange for a Sobell House community nurse to visit us at home.

When the nurse arrived, this was the day our lives, and George’s pain, changed. She was kind, she listened, and made changes right away to make George comfortable. The nurse arrived at 3pm and George had proper pain relief by 5pm, which meant he could fall into a restful sleep for the first time in months that night.

We all took a breath and hoped this would be enough to keep him comfortable for some time, but little did we know that four short weeks later we would need Sobell House’s help more than ever.

After arriving home from work and finding George in a terrible state, followed by a restless night, I called Sobell House in the morning who asked us to come into the hospice. When we arrived, George managed to get out of the car with my help and walk to the entrance, but no further. A wheelchair appeared from nowhere, and a very friendly man helped us through to the ward, where the staff acted quickly and assessed George so they could give him more pain relief.

What sticks in my mind about that day is that every member of staff we met called us by our first names and helped us to understand what was happening. It was so different to the experience we’d had over the past nine months. The second thing that sticks in my mind – and made us both chuckle! – was that at 11am, someone popped into the room to offer George a morning drink. As a joke, George asked for a cider, but the answer was ‘yes, of course’! This put us at ease and gave us some much-needed light relief. They didn’t have the cider George drank at home, but the next day, there it was.

The following morning, it was like my George was back, he was even up and walking. George had panicked when I had spoken to the ward sister the day before. He said ‘I don’t want to go there, as that’s where people go to die’. However, while we were on our own that day, he said to me, ‘it’s ok here, it feels like home and the staff get me’. I had peace of mind knowing that he felt relaxed and comfortable.

Pictured: George and Caroline on their wedding day
Pictured: George, Caroline and their children
Pictured: George and Caroline’s children today

While at the hospice, George met with the music therapist and shared his wish to record a piece of music that had been in his head since he was 16 years old. The music therapist helped him to record it and George came back to his room almost glowing. He received the finished CD a few days later and the piece of music is beautiful.

On the Friday, George had improved and he wanted to go home. I spoke to his nurse to see what the chances were of taking him home. He explained that the improvement was possibly just a blip and the body’s reaction to not being in constant pain. This was such a shock to me – reality had finally hit. The nurse was so professional and kind and explained that George should stay in over the weekend so they could monitor him and make sure he was well enough to go home.

That weekend was full of visitors. As we have three children, room nine (the family room) was perfect for us. George had a bedroom and we had a lounge and small kitchen. The kids were comfortable and George could sit and talk to people without being in bed. The gardens at Sobell House are beautiful and George loved to walk outside with family and friends, or be pushed around in a wheelchair when he was tired. By Sunday, it was clear he was going downhill, so we had a quiet afternoon where the five of us watched a film with popcorn with the curtains closed, just like we did at home.

On the Monday morning, George’s mum and I arrived at the hospice and met with Dr Mary Miller, who is the most gentle, thoughtful person I think I will ever meet in my life. She had already assessed George before we arrived and delivered to us the news that George would not be coming home, and that he in fact would probably only have a week to live. She asked heartfelt questions which would not have even crossed my mind after hearing this kind of news. Through her actions, she enabled us to make decisions that would help us as a family and, although we didn’t know it then, would help the kids through the toughest year of their lives and the grieving process. She told us as much as she could and explained how the staff would give us information throughout the week. George was very much included in this conversation and it was at a pace he could keep up with. We had just been delivered the worst news in the world, but in such a way that I was able to take it all in and not go into a complete panic. I admire and respect Dr Miller so much and can only thank her for taking such gentle steps with us.

We left to tell the kids and pack our bags so we could stay at the hospice. The advice we had received on how to help the children through this was put into full effect, and although it was the hardest thing I have ever done, I went through it with the confidence that I was not setting the kids up for any future stress or problems.

The next ten days were a blur; however, I was able to keep the two promises George asked me to keep – ‘please don’t let me be in pain, and don’t leave me on my own’. The kids, George’s mum and I moved into the family room and did not leave until George’s spirit was free. I had a bed brought in so I could sleep right next to George, a small thing that meant the world to me as I could sleep holding his hand.

George deteriorated quickly but the staff at Sobell House were amazing. They always spoke to him and never spoke over the bed as if he wasn’t there. They included me in every decision, drug check or assessment, and let me know what to expect at each stage. Nothing was ever too much for any of the staff, nurses, volunteers or doctors and they looked after our whole family, as well as George, always checking if we needed anything and making us feel at home.

On the Tuesday, I knew George was very close to the end but you really do go into denial. The staff were helpful and told us it could be in the next 24 or 48 hours. They recommended that the kids should always say goodbye each time they left, just in case. That night, all three kids wanted to go home – I think kids have a sixth sense. They each had a turn in the room with daddy by themselves. They said goodbye, told him they loved him and that they would miss him, all in their own private way. This had a huge impact on their grief – a year on, they all said what a difference it made; they had no regrets and left nothing unsaid.

That night, George’s mum, my mum and I all took turns to sit with him as we had for the past ten days. George passed away very peacefully holding mine and his mum’s hand at 6:45am on Wednesday 6 June.

Most people would think this would be the end of Sobell House’s support when we left the hospice that Wednesday, but no, I was offered counselling support from the bereavement team which helped me so much in that first year. The kids received amazing support from a local bereavement charity called SeeSaw, which was recommended to us by Sobell House.

We live in the proud memory of George, fulfilling his wishes to live our lives and be happy people. That is not to say we don’t have our days where the loss of such a beautiful, amazing man cripples us, but we had our hand held through the worst time of our lives by people who care. They care not just because it is their job, but from their hearts and souls. Thank you to all the team, you make such a difference when it really matters.

Thank you so much to Caroline for kindly sharing her family’s experience of Sobell House.

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