At the hospice, I really saw the warmth of humanity

Robena at the hospice with her children
Robena at the hospice with her children Usnan and Zaynah

Robena Sheikh's husband Zahir was cared for at the Marie Curie Hospice, Bradford in the last three weeks of his life.

"My husband was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in December 2009 and started chemotherapy within weeks.

"He was 42 and we had two small children – a son and a daughter.

"When the palliative care team visited, I was very cold towards them. I didn’t want interference in my family. Some Muslim families can feel distrusting and may not want to let others in and I understand their difficulties. It was only over time that I learned I could trust the palliative care team and the hospice.

"By the following August, the cancer had spread to Zahir’s brain. He had to stop working and I took time off work to care for him. Looking after Zahir and the children was difficult.

Moving to the hospice

"In August, the palliative care team suggested we go to the Marie Curie Hospice, Bradford for an assessment. The consultant said Zahir had only weeks to live so it made sense to move him into the hospice. That was a big shock. Zahir still seemed very strong, determined and positive.

"The hospice was so much better than I expected. Zahir had his own room where visitors could stay overnight. There was a prayer room, conservatory and a multi-faith chapel.

"The staff listened to me and talked to me about how I was coping. I didn’t expect to make so many new friends and to experience such a loving environment.

Supporting one another

"At the hospice, I really saw the warmth of humanity – no matter what your colour or creed we were there for each other and I will always carry this feeling with me. It felt like there was a ring of people holding hands around me and my children. I’ve never experienced this before or since.

"As is the case with many Asian families, people came from far and wide to visit Zahir. It is etiquette to feed visitors so we often ate together in the eating area at the hospice. The hospice helped us to restrict visitors as he became very ill.

The final moments

"The hospice staff were so supportive and reassuring. I was worried that I might not be there with Zahir when he died – I might be checking on the children or have to pop out. But one nurse said that if I was meant to be there when he died then I would be. That felt like just the right thing to say.

"I was with him at the end on 19 September 2010 – I will never forget it. I was pacing all day when they told me it was only a matter of time. I was in the room when he took his last breath: he suddenly opened his eyes and lifted his head. I knew he saw me, it was like he was going to say something to me and couldn’t. He passed away peacefully.

"He died late on Sunday night. The following morning his body was taken to the funeral parlour and then to the mosque and buried at lunchtime on Monday. It is very important in my religion to be buried quickly otherwise it would have been very distressing and stressful for me. The community would have passed judgement on us.

Counselling helped me

"Zahir’s death was very hard for me to come to terms with; we had been married 18 years. I had counselling at the hospice for around a year afterwards and it really helped me.

"I regularly donate in the name of my husband. In giving to charity I believe, and it’s linked to my culture, that it will help ease his burden and pain. I teach my children this.

"I would very much recommend the hospice to friends and family. Often in the Asian community people believe the family should look after the relative at home. But I know that this hospice felt like home for me and I couldn’t have looked after both my kids and my husband. I will always be grateful for those last days with him."

Robena features in our short film below about the fantastic work of the Marie Curie Hospice, Bradford.