Light really does come from darkness
"I owe so much to Oakhaven. The hospice helped me through my most difficult times – proving that light really does come from darkness."
My wife, Cathy, and I shared so much. Like me, she was a headteacher, and we met at a headteacher’s conference – both working with children with special educational needs. We fell in love and married in 2002 when Cathy joined me in Staffordshire from her home in Dartford.
She was so lovely with people and great with our four children and grandchildren, Emma, Fira and JJ. When I retired, we left the Midlands for Burton Bradstock and the beautiful Jurassic Coast. I’m forever grateful for those golden years.
In 2011, after four happy years in Burton Bradstock, we learned the devastating news that Cathy had cancer; Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. After initial treatment at the local hospital, she was referred to Southampton, a round trip of over three hours – it was incredibly exhausting for both of us. We decided to move closer, arriving in New Milton in 2013, but the treatment and travel took a toll on us. We were seeking counselling at the hospital at the time; it was then they suggested we speak to Oakhaven Hospice.
"...support felt like a reassuring hug."
After meeting the team, Cathy decided Oakhaven was the best place for her to be and she spent her last weeks there when her treatments failed. Everything about the care she received at Oakhaven was so gentle; always compassionate, never clinical. The family were encouraged to visit and we got to know the nurses and other staff well; their support felt like a reassuring hug. Cathy’s room looked out over the garden, so when Jen, Cathy’s daughter, wanted quiet time with her, we could go for a walk and explore with the grandchildren. Truthfully, it was one big care package for all of us.
I lost Cathy in September 2017. The phone rang at 2 am and a voice calmly broke the news. It was a relief in a way; Cathy was no longer in pain and despair, and so was I – knowing she was at peace in those final days.
In the weeks that followed, I attended Oakhaven’s coffee mornings, with other bereaved people, to natter over a brew and biscuits. That’s where I got to know Jenny, whose partner, Phil, died of multiple cancers – one day after Cathy, in a nearby room.
Jenny and Phil had met at school and were childhood sweethearts. Marrying in 1966, they have two sons, Graeme and Nigel, and four lovely grandchildren. As a nurse Jenny carried on working and was also Phil’s carer for many years – but, as with Cathy and me, Oakhaven was there for them during Phil’s final moments. A lover of folk and classical music, the nurses made sure Phil’s favourite music was playing by his bedside throughout his final nights – little touches like these make the biggest difference.
"We understood each other and shared our feelings of grief..."
I can’t tell you how precious those conversations with Jenny were – telling each other about Phil and Cathy. We understood each other and shared our feelings of grief – a medicine like no other. Jenny always saved me a seat at coffee mornings; then we both joined Oakhaven’s wonderful bereavement course, six weeks of sympathetically exploring our feelings!
I think our love for each other grew from those quiet moments, remembering Phil and Cathy together. Meeting each other meant a purpose had come back into our lives, a lightness in the darkness – and a new love. During the first Covid lockdown, we realised that we really missed each other. So, when Jenny was able to sell her house, she moved to the same road as me in New Milton, where we continue to build our partnership. The light also burns with our friends from the Bereavement Group – we continue to meet and support each other over a monthly lunch.
"Oakhaven taught us the most invaluable lesson – moving on doesn’t mean forgetting the people who came before. The memories of Cathy and Phil burn bright in us both."
I know just how important it is to hold that space for remembrance. It’s why Light up a Life is such a special event – I’ve seen it firsthand. I really hope you’ll be there this year too and find your light.
With many thanks, John and Jenny