By Emma Clayton
I WILL never forget the winter’s night a knock at the door brought a ray of light into my darkest hours.
Snow was falling when she arrived. She was a stranger, yet I felt I knew her as soon as I opened the door. She chatted away, taking off her coat, pulling a box of sandwiches from her bag, bustling around, instantly making everything seem normal and safe.
When my terminally ill dad decided he wanted to spend the final weeks of his life at home, Marie Curie Nurses made that possible. The hospice arranged a homecare package, and my siblings and I cared for him too, around jobs and childcare.
Our dad was at home, in his armchair, in the house he’d lived in over 40 years, and that meant a lot to him - and to us. When his health deteriorated further I stayed overnight, sleeping on the settee beside the bed we’d installed in the living-room for him.
His broken sleep kept me awake, and several times in the night I had to call out the district nurses to him. Juggling sleepless nights with a fulltime job wasn’t easy, so it was arranged for a Marie Curie nurse to come and sit with Dad one night, so that I could go to bed.
Friendly face: a Marie Curie nurse looking after a patient
The prospect of having a stranger in the house overnight felt a bit odd, but I was so in need of sleep I didn’t care.
In the end we had two nurses that week, each covering a night. It was a great comfort, knowing someone calm and capable was sitting with Dad overnight, soothing him as he slipped in and out of consciousness. It felt like they were looking after me, too. And it helped me get some rest, so I could go to work the next morning, once the daytime carers had arrived to help Dad get washed and dressed.
Towards the end of the week his condition declined so much it was decided he would go into the hospice. Sitting with him in the ambulance, knowing he would never come home, was the saddest journey of my life. We passed his local pub, where he’d spent Thursday evenings playing dominoes in the tap room, and the church where my sister got married, walking down the aisle with her proud father.
Icy clumps of snow stubbornly clung to the roadside. How I longed for him to see spring.
But I took comfort from knowing Dad spent most of his final week at home. If it hadn’t been for those two lovely night nurses, he probably wouldn’t have been able to do that.
Marie Curie Nurses provide free hands-on care and emotional support to those with a terminal illness, and their loved ones, working night and day in people’s homes and in hospices.
This month it’s Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal, and in Yorkshire the charity hopes to raise £300,000 from a range of fundraising activities. Every £20 from bucket collections and daffodil pin sales pays for an hour of nursing care and £180 pays for a Marie Curie Nurse’s overnight nine-hour shift in a patient’s home.
Every hour donated by fundraisers - those friendly people in the daft daffodil hats and yellow tabards, clutching trays of pin badges - all helps to fund precious hours of end-of-life care.
In my car, a little Marie Curie daffodil pin lies on the dashboard. And in my kitchen stands a jug of daffs in full bloom. My dad didn’t live to see the spring, but these trumpet-shaped yellow flowers bring me close to him.