On the 14th April 2021, Anita’s mother Eila died whilst staying at our Inpatient Unit at Michael Sobell House. Anita writes below about her family’s experience and the deeply precious moments spent with Eila during her final days and hours.
14th of April 2021 – 6:30 am
I could hear my Mum‘s breathing, slow and very shallow. She is lying peacefully in the bed opposite me at Michael Sobell House. A few minutes later, all of a sudden, nothing, silence, no breathing.
I leapt out of bed and rushed over to her. I knew she had gone. She had imperceptibly and so very peacefully slipped away. It would have been her beloved Father’s (my Grandfather) birthday that day.
The nurse and Matron Carol checked her and gently confirmed to me that she was gone. Carol held me tight as I cried and sobbed like a child for my Mum. A comforting bear hug I will never, ever forget. To this day, if we meet, she gives me that hug again, and it means the world to me.
It was the most beautiful spring morning you could ever imagine. I felt strongly that Mum was still there with me. I opened the windows to the balcony and I talked to her, telling her what a beautiful morning it was. Outside the window a little squirrel came and then some birds, all sat on the railing, as if to pay their respects. The bird song was so beautiful, the sun shone brilliantly and the trees gently rustled in the breeze. What a place of peace, beauty and tranquillity the House is. I called my eldest daughter Stephanie, and she arrived within 20 minutes. She had never witnessed the death of anyone, let alone a loved one, she was so brave. I gently took Mum‘s hand out from under the covers. I placed her still warm hand in Stephanie‘s hand. We three generations all held hands together. We both talked to Mum and said the things that we had been saying to her for the last few days, one last time. Stephanie thanked her for making us strong women like her.
We three generations all held hands together.
After about 20 minutes, I felt that Mum had gone, her essence was no longer there. The nurse so gentle and kindly suggested we go and sit out in the garden with a cup of tea whilst they washed and dressed Mum. All I had in my bag was a clean nightie she had once bought for me for Christmas – we had all laughed because it was a size 26, soft cotton – more like a marquee on me than a nightie! So that is what she wore.
Mum used to love crocheting blankets and we all had what we called our ‘Nana blankets’, lovingly made by her for each of us. A few months before, out of the blue, Mum told me if I had to send her away to residential care, all she wanted was her blanket with her. It was a sad moment as I had promised her she would stay, independently, in her own home as long as she wished. I made sure, throughout these past weeks that she had her blanket and I watched as she rubbed it between her fingers, feeling the stitches for comfort. It comforted me too.
So the lovely nurses washed her, combed her hair and dressed her. Finally, they wrapped her snuggly in her precious Nana blanket. I had kept that promise to the end. Wherever she was going, her blanket would go with her.
Whilst we sat in the garden with a cup of tea, surrounded by the love and care of every member of staff at Michael Sobell House, the cleaner, the chef and others on duty came to pay their respects to us, and showed their love and care. As I’m sure they have done for so many other people before and since; it meant the absolute world to us.
Five days previously, Mum had been sent by ambulance from Hillingdon Hospital to the House and I drove up to meet her there, not leaving again until she had passed. She was so frail, it was so unfair, I was so angry. But she was strong and she wasn’t going anywhere until she was good and ready.
When I arrived at Sobell’s I had a COVID test and sat outside waiting for the results before I could go inside to be with Mum. Whilst I waited, the hospice nurse rushed out to fetch me as they thought, just as she had arrived, that she was taking her last breath. My COVID test thankfully was negative. Mum’s breathing settled and then we met the most wonderful, compassionate, palliative care specialist, Dr Ros.
She listened intently. She and her colleagues took the time to hear all about Mum and about her family and then she asked when was the last time that my children were able to see their Nana. Sadly, that had been at the beginning of that particular lockdown.
Dr Ros told me to call them immediately and tell them to come to the House. They would be COVID tested and could go in to see their Nana straight after.
Within the hour, my three daughters, and a son in law, arrived and later my husband. It was incredibly emotional as we knew that we were saying goodbye. As a very close family, this time was so precious to us.
That day was such a gift. Mum knew that we were all with her and she responded to all of us. It was at this time that I took my youngest daughter aside as she was understandably upset. I explained to her something I was once told and will never forget:
We can all have a good life, but it’s equally important that we can have a good death too. That our loved one can die in peace, pain free, surrounded by love; warm, comfortable and serene. That is a good death.
It was our privilege to be with Mum at this time in such a wonderful place.
When I had arrived at Michael Sobell House, the doctor said that I was most welcome to stay with Mum day and night if I wished as we knew the end was near. After the experience that we had had at the hospital I cannot thank them enough for this kindness. To know that I would be with my Mum right to the end and she wouldn’t be alone made this so much easier to bear.
From the Friday that we arrived at Sobell’s, we were treated with immense kindness, love and compassion by everyone. It felt like a big blanket of love and comfort had been wrapped around us all. The staff looked after me, made sure that I had meals, that I had tea and coffee. And they cared for me just as much as they looked after my Mum. This love and kindness even extended to a therapist giving me a foot massage with essential oils and some to massage Mum’s hands to relax us both. A reclining chair was brought in for me next to my Mum’s bed and I was able to hold her hand and be close by her side 24/7.
Whenever anyone attended to Mum, day or night, they did so with such a loving gentle touch, and they talked to her throughout.
She knew I was there, even though she drifted in and out of a coma. I was able to chat to her, tell her all the things that I wanted to say whilst I still had the chance. I was able to play music that she loved. I called relatives abroad so they could speak to her and she could hear her mother tongue. She was from Finland and was always so very proud of ‘Finlandia’ by Sibelius, so I played it many times for her. I also played ancient traditional Finnish lullabies that maybe her mother sang to her when she was a baby. All this with the encouragement of the staff.
Whenever anyone attended to Mum, day or night, they did so with such a loving gentle touch, and they talked to her throughout. They talked to her as if she was fully there, they knew she could still hear and she was cared for and spoken to with such love and affection by these angels.
So when we left Michael Sobell House that day, I felt immense peace. Despite my grief, I knew my Mum had had a very good death. The final gift I could give her. But it was a joint gift, from the wonderful people at Michael Sobell House too. I can never repay them for that gift to Mum, and the gift of peace to me and my family.
In loving memory of my Mum,
Eila Elisabet Foxen 1934-2021.