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~ My Galway Hospice Experience ~

Imagine a stronger power, being able to reach into your body with a big wrench and tighten the nuts and bolts on your heart a little too tight. Your chest feels constricted and a sickening feeling wells in your tummy with each breath in… That’s what a heart-wrenching feeling is! It is the only way I can begin to describe the ache in your heart when you hear the words ‘we have explored all the avenues and there is nothing more we can do’.

For many, this news will come after an exhausting overdose of scary needles and tests and tubes. I got this news about my 52 year old mother, Carmel, nearly twenty-two years ago. It was August 1998 and I was standing in the hall of Galway University Hospital with my dad and my siblings; and I felt like I jumped clean out of my body with the shock! However, the shrinking stature of my dad into an old man before my very eyes, was enough to bring me back into reality, because I could feel his heart breaking.

Suddenly everything was too real. It was like the dial was turned up on all my senses and I couldn’t think straight! The walls were a little whiter, the machines were beeping louder and the stench of hospital disinfectant was so overwhelming I thought I might throw up right there in the corridor!

This hospital had represented a place of hope, and possibility, and now those avenues were closed to us. We had an urgency to get her out of there immediately. It is hard to think when your mind is racing and traumatized and so it was ripe timing for the Galway Hospice Angels to swoop in and look after all of the “stuff” for us.

The funny thing is, a few short years previous, I knew nothing about The Galway Hospice. My friend Catherine and I had signed up to the Women’s mini-marathon in Dublin, a 10km walk for charity. I had decided to do it for Croí, the local heart foundation, mainly because my dad was a cardiac patient. My friend was doing it for the Galway Hospice. The hospice had not yet opened it’s doors and when Catherine rang for her sponsorship pack, they invited her to come see the new building before it started receiving patients. (At a guess I estimate it was 1996 and I would have been around 19.)

Catherine and I lived across the road in Wellpark Grove, so one day after work we hit over to view the building. We were met by Michael Craig for the tour. I was upfront telling him that up until a few days previous, I had never heard of hospice. I will always remember his words… people don’t usually hear about us until cancer knocks on the door of someone they know. He said one thing that really stuck in my head…

‘The sad thing is, I might even meet one of you girls on these corridors one day…’

Michael was very generous with his time that day and it had a profound affect on me. He showed us all the rooms and explained why they had positioned different rooms in different places. The space that got me the most was a patient living room – a room that patients could go into, to even escape the staff if they just needed a breather!

The compassion for the dying and their families really inspired me, and I bladdered about it constantly to anyone who would listen. I showed a video in the factory where I worked and I even wrote poems and articles to the papers at the time. I desperately wanted to do my bit to help raise the last few punt they needed to open the doors, so that anyone, in our community that needed these services, could avail of them. The building was ready and waiting, it just needed funding.

If you were in earshot of me, you probably had your ears worn off about the place and its mission.

So now, when the cancer liaison nurse suggested hospice to mother, she called me to ask my opinion. She hadn’t been told she was dying, they thought it was best not to tell her; that to take hope away would mean she could give-up sooner rather than later. However, the day she told me the hospice had visited her and handed me the brochure… I instantly regretted my shouting from the rooftops.

In the day or two after being told she had a month to live, I was sporadic with my visits. It was hard to keep composure and not let the cat out of the bag, the stakes were too high. Now here she was asking me should she go to hospice, and I was supposed to pretend she wasn’t dying. It took every bit of strength I had that day to tell her that I thought it was a lovely place. Let’s be clear, my Mother was no fool, she knew her fate, but in true Irish style, we never discussed it.

She made the choice herself to use the residential hospice in Renmore instead of being at home. Their patient centered ethos made it easier for us to go home at night. From the minute she entered, she was priority, her every need addressed and then … the little extras! They always had her hair done and her nails painted and her favourite perfume on.

The staff were exceptional, two friends of mine (one sadly gone too soon herself since) were doing their work experience in there at the time as part of their own nursing training. I can only imagine that it was difficult for them having to look after my mother, whom they knew well, but they were very kind to her and I will always remember their gentleness. Then the inevitable happened, I passed Michael Craig on the corridor. It was a bitter sweet moment. I’m sure he didn’t recognise me, but I didn’t have the strength to stop and talk to him.

In the hospice, my mother felt special and she had her dignity. These were the finite details that were important to her and therefore they were important to us. Although it is nearly twenty two years since my mother made her transition to God, the delicate way in which those dedicated carers, doctors and nurses took care of her and us will NEVER leave me. It was like she stopped off at a five star resort en-route to Heaven. We will always be grateful.

The services of Galway Hospice are free and they depend heavily on fundraising events to continue their priceless service. Those events have all been hampered by the Covid Pandemic, yet the same amount of people still need palliative care, this is why I would urge you to donate to their sunflower campaign.

Sadly, one day someone hearing this story will need these same services and from my family to yours, we promise that your precious loved one and your family will be in very good hands 🙏

Text GHF to 50300 to donate just €4.

If you are not in Ireland, but would like to donate, please use this link, thank you.