John loved Christmas. He loved cooking up a festive feast for loved ones, transforming his home with Christmas decorations and spending time with family and friends. So when John came to Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice just before Christmas Day, he was determined to continue with the festive traditions he had always loved.
John’s husband Stuart, shares how their Christmas traditions became an important part of their stay at Birmingham St Mary’s and why their shared love of cooking was their way of giving back to the Hospice…
John and I loved cooking together. Not only was he my husband and best friend but he was also my partner in crime when it came to cooking – both at work and at home. We both worked for the same catering company and more often than not, I’d come home to find John back in the kitchen, whipping up a lasagne or curry from scratch. No two meals ever tasted the same when John was cooking. He was always experimenting with different ingredients and mixing flavours. It was one of the things I loved most about him.
So when John was rushed to hospital one Easter Monday to have back surgery, I remember feeling scared. We’d been decorating the bathroom and John had tripped on some plastic sheeting and fallen down the stairs – which had given him a lot of hip pain.
Although the surgery seemed to go ok, when John’s weight started to go up and down drastically over the next few months, we started to become really concerned. So we went back to the hospital and after more tests and another scan, we were handed our most devastating news yet – John had bone cancer and it was incurable. They said he had just months to live.
As I sat there, listening to the doctors tell us this news, my head was going round in circles. I just couldn’t accept it – neither of us could. All I can remember thinking is that I wasn’t ready to lose John yet.
After that diagnosis, it was only a matter of months before John and I were put in touch with Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice. It was November and his symptoms had started to get much worse. So we decided to call the Hospice for extra help and support.
Neither of us really knew what to expect from a hospice and at first, we were a little uncertain about it. But we were both so surprised to see how positive and comforting the place was. John settled in very quickly and I could tell that he was happy to be there. We knew he was in safe hands and the doctors and nurses instantly made him feel at ease.
Being away from home over the Christmas season was tough at times though. John had always loved Christmas and one of his favourite things to do was to transform our house with decorations and lights. So when the nurses found this out, they encouraged us to decorate John’s private room at the Hospice. And I’m so glad they did. We had a right laugh with our friend as we put up tinsel, hung lights and even decorated the mini-Christmas tree. Soon enough, we had transformed his room into a grotto! It made it feel so much more Christmassy and it was a chance to bring a little bit of our home into the Hospice.
Another thing the nurses did was surprise John with an afternoon of cake baking. As you can imagine, food played a big part in our Christmas celebrations, so it meant a lot to John to be able to bake that afternoon. It was important that he was still able to do the things he loved at his most favourite time of year.
One of the things that meant the most to me though, was how much effort and thoughtfulness the nurses and doctors put in to arranging John to come home for Christmas Day. The Hospice’s occupational therapists started to make plans so that the house would be safe and comfortable for him. He would only be home for the day but we were both so happy that we would spend Christmas Day together in the comfort of our own home.
It was those small acts of kindness that inspired John and I to raise money for the Hospice. We loved cooking a feast at Christmas, so it felt only right to still do one but turn it into a festive fundraiser with friends and family. Even at this really difficult time in John’s life, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how he was thinking of others and wanting to give back.
John and I spent weeks planning the feast in his room at the Hospice – right from where we were hosting it down to what vegetables we were roasting. We couldn’t wait to have the big celebration just before Christmas. We were also making plans for our own celebrations on Christmas Day and were looking forward to spending the day at home.
So when John passed away on the 17th December, just two days before our festive fundraiser, I was completely and utterly heartbroken. I’d lost my partner in crime, my best friend, and my husband. I just broke down and really struggled to cope.
I decided to still go ahead with the fundraising meal for friends and family. It wasn’t an easy decision but I know it’s what John would have wanted. He would have been so proud to see all his loved ones together, doing something good for the Hospice. It was one of the most upsetting days of my life but I’m so glad that I did it.
Dealing with grief is difficult at any time of year but for me, dealing with the loss of John at Christmas was really hard. There were times when I couldn’t accept that he had gone but thanks to Birmingham St Mary’s bereavement counsellors, I’m now learning how to cope with my grief.
One of the things that I take a lot of comfort in though, is knowing that John was able to spend his last Christmas enjoying some of his favourite traditions. We created some really happy memories together at the Hospice and I’m so grateful that John was able to continue to do the things he loved at this special time of year.
Thank you Stuart for sharing yours and John’s story with us. Here at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, we know how important Christmas traditions can be. That’s why we’re asking you to show you ‘Care at Christmas’ and help give local families, like John and Stuart, one more Christmas they can treasure. To find out how you can get involved, head to our website.