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Pauline and Regan

“It was nothing like what I expected” – hospice helps family through hardest time

12 February 2024

When Regan McDonald’s mom Pauline told her that she wanted to spend her final days in a hospice, the request initially came as a shock.

Her family thought that caring for her at home would be the best way to ensure she had the personal care she deserved. But they discovered that Birmingham Hospice was able to provide that too – taking the pressure off the family at a difficult time in their lives.

Pauline was 50 years old when she died, two years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was only in the hospice for the last few days of her life, but Regan said the care she received made a huge difference in making the end of her life as comfortable as possible, as well as giving her family the time and space to say goodbye.

Regan was only 14 at the time and knew little about what hospices did, or the treatment her mom would receive there. The family’s priority was ensuring Pauline got the sort of personalised, individual care which had not always been the case in hospital, and that they were able to be with her as much as they wanted.

Regan and Pauline.

Regan said: “Mom’s life was her children – me and my two brothers. I was the youngest and I was always referred to by friends and family as her shadow, and Mom would say ‘Me and my shadow’ when talking about us. We used to go shopping together, and have girly days – we’d go for coffee in Beatties or watch a film. Everyone would say she was just an all-round good person and didn’t have a bad bone in her body.

“When Mom said she wanted to go into the hospice, when she was too poorly to stay at home, I was shocked at first – I thought hospices were only for people who had no-one else to look after them, and I thought, no, we would do that.

“But it was nothing like what I expected – mom got the care she deserved and was always treated as an individual, which wasn’t always the case elsewhere. I remember the day before Mom died, they wheeled her outside because she said she wanted some fresh air, which only sounds like a little thing but it meant a lot to her. It wasn’t easy with all the tubes and everything she was connected to, but it wasn’t an issue – nothing was too much trouble.”

As well as looking after Pauline, the team from the hospice also played a vital role in supporting the whole family, ensuring they could be with her as much as possible, and checking on their wellbeing too.

“We were there every day and they would make us meals without asking, just encouraging us to eat something, and asking us how we were,” Regan added. “We knew Mom was in pain and that wasn’t going to change, but knowing that her last few days were as comfortable as they could be was a big help to us.

“My brothers and two uncles were all able to come in and out, visit and stay for longer; there was never any pressure for us to go. There was always someone with her, all day every day, and that was what we needed as a family and what Mom needed.”

Regan has supported the hospice through fundraising, raising £1,600 with a family fun day at The Old Horns in Great Barr, and several smaller events, and plans to do more in the future.

She said: “Hospice care isn’t what you think – comfort and care is paramount, and we couldn’t have done all of that as a family. Since my mom died, my auntie was cared for as well before she passed away, and again the care she was given was amazing – it hasn’t changed in 15 years.

“Everybody needs to do what’s right for them but, as hard as it sounds, there are things you can’t do yourselves and the care that hospices provide is there not just to help the person who is ill but the family as well.”