A very special last Christmas surprise for Grandmother Pat

When Pippa’s mum, Pat, urgently needed care over Christmas, the Marie Curie Hospice, Hampstead were there for her.

Pippa remembers how much that care meant to her mum, and how the family organised an unexpected Christmas surprise for Pat.

A close family: Daughter Pippa (right) describes what her mum's care meant to her parents and her family.

“A total shock”

Mum was originally meant to be coming to South Africa, where my family and I live, for Christmas.

When she was diagnosed with terminal thyroid cancer at the end of November, those plans obviously changed. The news was a total shock because Mum was such a healthy person.

I got straight on a plane and arrived there in time to spend her last two weeks at her side.

Despite it being the weekend before Christmas, the Marie Curie Hospice, Hampstead made sure Mum had a place with them.

We basically put her straight in the car and took her that morning.

A lovely Christmas surprise

My kids, Harry and Pia, flew over from South Africa so we could all be together.

They arrived on Christmas morning - Mum didn’t know her grandchildren were going to be visiting until they walked through the door! It was a lovely surprise for her.

The family comes together to be by the side of beloved wife, mother and Grandmother, Pat. (Pictured: Husband Peter, and grandchildren Pia and Harry with Pat)

The staff had told us beforehand about the Christmas lunch they were preparing for everyone, and that day we all sat and ate together in Mum’s room.

It was so important, and it being winter it felt especially cosy.

No such thing as ‘visiting hours’

One thing Mum was clear on was that she wanted to have a good death.

In those last weeks while she was at the hospice, Mum and Dad’s friends could come and visit at any time.

In a hospital there are obviously limits to this, and it was amazing for my parents to able to welcome friends or family on their own terms.

And in the few times we weren’t able to be there, it was great to know that Mum was being totally cared for.

We knew that if there was anything wrong, the staff would phone immediately.

60 years in love: Peter and his beloved wife, Pat, who was a supporter of many charities, including Marie Curie.

“A tribute to a wonderful marriage”

We knew when it was Mum’s last night, so Dad said he wanted to stay with her. The hospice staff found a bed for him and set it up at Mum’s bedside.

She actually died early the next morning, and Dad was right there with her.

My parents were together for 60 years. It was important to us that he was actually in the room and could be there, as so often that doesn’t happen.

It was a fitting tribute to a wonderful marriage.

Just like home

There was one other thing I just loved about the hospice.

I was coming in one morning over Christmas, and a staff member was wheeling through the drinks trolley. They were asking whether anyone wanted a small, festive sherry before lunch.

I thought it was so lovely, and the thought struck me that this is the kind of place I’d want to go to die.

A place where you went if you were very unwell and you were going to die, but not a sad place.

A place that was like home.

You can help support families like Pat and Pippa’s so they can spend Christmas the way they want to – together. Donate to help support people living with a terminal illness.