Harry's story

I was married to Karen for 45 years, her and our two dogs were the loves of my life. We didn’t have children, our dogs were our babies. We qualified for Crufts ten years in a row, having success in numerous classes, we couldn’t have been prouder!

We were at our caravan one day and Karen was struggling with backache. I could see how much pain she was in. After lots of trips to the hospital she finally had a scan and was diagnosed, at age 64, with cancer of the spine. We later found out it originated in her breast and her lungs. It came so out of the blue, we were both in shock. I think we were both hoping for a miracle.
Karen came to Dove House for pain management and at every step of her journey they treat her like a human being, not a number and not an illness. They took the time to get to know her and really cared for her wellness despite the fact she was dying.

By this point, Karen was paralysed from the waist down and hadn’t been out of bed in weeks. When we arrived at the hospice it was such a glorious day and through the hospice window you could see how beautiful the gardens were. I mentioned to the nurse how lovely it was that day and she instantly told me they could take Karen’s bed out into the garden for her to be able to enjoy the day too. I couldn’t believe it. The doors in her room opened and within hours of being at the hospice she was outside in nature.
There was another patient in Karen’s room and they made such a bond, laughing all of the time. I was amazed at how could they find so many things to laugh about in such despairing times, but they did.
Her time there was so precious. Even a young girl who was volunteering came and painted Karen’s nails for her. Such a small thing but something that really brightened her up and made her smile. One day she was treated her to a lovely bath with calming music which just wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else. I could even bring the dogs in to visit Karen, she missed them desperately and wanted nothing more than to see them.

Karen felt like the hospice was a holiday which is unbelievable really but that’s what it felt like.
The doctors were fantastic, really friendly and they helped us have all sorts of hard conversations. I am so glad they did.

Karen was discharged home but things quickly went downhill and within a couple of days we were back Karen didn’t want to die at home, she didn’t want that for me. She wanted to die at Dove House as she knew they would look after me. Even in her final days she was selfless. One of the last conversations I had with Karen before she died was in the hospice gardens.

Just four months after discovering her cancer she died surrounded by such care, care that she deserved. The hospice gardens still brings me such peace, even now. It’s hard to describe really but I feel close to Karen at Dove House. When she first passed I placed a gold leaf on the hospice’s Memory Tree and me and the dogs would spend hours in the Memory Garden every day. It helped me through the first few months which were incredibly hard.

Without Dove House I don’t know where I would have been. We spent our marriage planning for the years ahead of us and to have that suddenly taken away from us felt cruel.

I wasn’t coping at all after losing Karen and when I returned to the hospice to drop off a donation on the first anniversary of her death the receptionist could see that and asked if she could ask one of the Family Support team to come and talk to me. I just felt so angry and I couldn’t stop thinking “Why me”. I couldn’t even mention Karen’s name or say the words “she had died” out loud.
Dove House was the only good thing about Karen passing. I wish I hadn’t needed to come in contact with the hospice but I am so glad we did.

If I hadn’t met Janet I honestly don’t know where I would be, I just couldn’t see a life for me now Karen had gone. Thanks to Janet I have found a like-minded group of friends who also lost their wives at similar times to me and we have certainly bonded. She introduced me to the Bereavement Café, Welcome Wednesdays, and the Friday Friends group. Being back at the hospice brings me such comfort and talking to people like for like is a great help and more beneficial than anything. We do even have fun playing pool and other things. It has helped me smile again when I didn’t think I would be able to again. People think that you would constantly be reminded of death at the hospice but that really isn’t the case at all. It is such a joyful and happy place that feels special to me. It was like a sanctuary for us and it still is.

Sometimes I feel like she is being forgotten or when I speak about her I worry that people are internally thinking “I wish he would shut up about it now.” At the hospice groups I don’t feel like that as I know we can all talk freely about our lost loved ones.

Grief never goes but as time goes on, with the help of Dove House, I am finding ways to cope.
I owe a lot to Dove House, without them I don’t know what life would have been like but I know it would have been unbearable.

I have such lovely memories of Dove House. I know Karen died there but it feels like a place of happiness not sorrow. Everyone you meet, no matter what their role at the hospice are so friendly and care so much about the patients and their families, and that speaks volumes.