A letter from Bill Ward

This is not a letter about grief (although it is a bit). This is also not a letter about death (although it is a bit about that too). This is more a letter about life, positivity, and the remarkable place that is St Oswald’s Hospice.

Our Dad, Nigel Ward, spent 6 weeks in St Oswald’s earlier this year. Dad had prostate cancer. He’d been diagnosed with it 5 years or so ago, and found out that it had spread to his bones towards the end of February of this year. He was 87, and apart from a few years out in Northumberland at Whittingham during the war, had lived in Newcastle all his life. He loved it. He ran the local butchers, RA Dodds, for years. When that ran out, he ran his own shop on the Great North Road. When that ran out, he sold pensions, and worked on the meat counter at Fenwicks, and in the Grainger Market in town. He loved playing the accordion, playing golf, and Scottish Country Dancing. His garden was, and still is, a place of wonder. On top of all of that, he was just Dad. Quietly supportive, encouraging, wise, and always very kind.

I mention all of this because this is who Dad was. He was all of these things. But I also mention it because during his time at St Oswald’s Hospice, every member of staff – the doctors, the nurses, the kitchen staff, the volunteers – all took the time and the trouble not only to treat him and care for him so brilliantly, and with such great compassion, but to really talk to him too, spend time with him, and to find out about who he was as an individual. Not just another generic old person dying of terminal cancer, but a unique human being who’d done an awful lot of stuff, like each and every single one of us.

During Dad’s time at the Hospice, the country went into Lockdown. At the time, he’d stabilised, and the Hospice were working hard at moving him to a Nursing Home. But inevitably, as elsewhere, Coronavirus found a way into St Oswald’s, and Dad got it.

Although we were no longer allowed to visit, St Oswald’s were brilliant at keeping us in touch with him. Even though he was a total technophobe and had never owned a mobile phone (he had essential tremor – exceptionally shaky hands – that made pushing buttons impossible), the Doctors made sure we were kept in touch with him – even helping us to hold video calls with him on Whats App via their own phones.

Dad managed to beat the virus, but he used up a lot of energy to do it. At the peak of Lockdown, The Hospice called us up and invited us back in to visit him for what turned out to be the last 6 days of his life. We’ll all always be extraordinarily grateful for that time – we’re acutely aware that other families in similar situations in Care Homes all over the country were not so lucky. Sitting with him in shifts as a family, talking with him, whilst socially distancing and wearing full PPE, and playing back to back Accordion tunes on Spotify – surreal doesn’t quite cover it. It was a very beautiful time. His cancer got him in the end. He died at 6am on Monday April 13th.

We all learnt a lot at St Oswald’s. That kindness is very much alive and well, and deeply rooted in the DNA of this part of the North East. That humanity and positivity are everywhere if you only take the time to allow them in. And that death is, inevitably, a part of life.

There are some things that you might not know about St Oswald’s Hospice: they care for young people, as well as old; they don’t just provide end of life care – they have an outpatients department, and a focus on living centre that includes short courses, session based wellbeing and specialist care services; and they care for all sorts of conditions, many of them respiratory, neurological, and cardiac, and not just the cancer treatment for which they are so well known.

All of this comes with a cost: the government provides approximately a third of St Oswald’s annual funding, but they need to find the other two thirds from elsewhere. That’s approximately £7 ½ million from voluntary donations. This usually comes from fundraising events, charity runs, abseils and the like. But with all the charity shops shut for 4 months (and some beyond), and with mass gatherings cancelled, that income stream has all but disappeared.

St Oswald’s urgently need your help. Do give as much, or as little as you can. It’ll be put to extremely good use.

And if you’re able, do please consider becoming a regular giver. You can find out more details on their page here.

And I truly hope that should you ever need the services of St Oswald’s at any point, for whatever reason, that you find yourself as well cared for and looked after as we were. As a family, we honestly don’t believe Dad could have been better cared for anywhere.

Thank you St Oswald’s Hospice.

Bill Ward


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