“Mum was so happy that we could bring her cat to the hospice”

During Hospice Care Week, we'll be taking a look at what goes on at Marie Curie's nine UK hospices. Today, we're looking at how hospice staff and volunteers strive to treat people as individuals, with their own particular needs and wishes. Those wishes can include wanting to see a much-missed family pet. Susan Brown’s mother Shirlie was cared for as an inpatient at the Marie Curie Hospice, Belfast. As Susan explains, Shirlie loved being able to see her cat, Buffy, while she was at the hospice.

“It definitely lifted Mum’s spirits that we could bring her cat, Buffy, to the hospice. She really looked forward to the visits and to telling the staff about her cats.

“Mum was a very kind and generous person. She’d worked in hospitals and, once she retired, did a car boot sale every week.

"Mum loved painting, making her own clothes and making jam. She represented Northern Ireland and Ireland in international Bridge competitions. She loved animals and had five cats.

“In 2010 she was diagnosed with bowel cancer and over the years had to have a number of operations.  In August 2013, she was told there was a slow-growing tumour in her brain and that her life expectancy could be about three months.

Pain controlled

“In December 2013, she was transferred to the Marie Curie Hospice, Belfast. She’d been in hospital in the months before that but they found it hard to control her pain.

“She was apprehensive and emotional about going into the hospice.  But the medical staff changed her medication and within a week they had her pain under control; she was sitting up and walking around with a physiotherapist.

“Mum had a beautiful large, private bedroom and bathroom. There was a great staff-to-patient ratio; she had a named nurse; and the food was excellent.  Best of all it was a quiet, happy and calm place. She frequently said: ‘How was I lucky enough to get in here?’

“The atmosphere was so positive and friendly and it felt like a home not a hospital.  Our family was able to come and go at any time.

“Mum’s partner Philip was able to stay and have Christmas dinner with Mum in the room – they both got presents, hats and crackers and the meal was lovely."

Buffy and Tiger

“A bonus was being able to bring in Buffy – one of Mum’s five cats – to visit. I brought Buffy to the hospice three times. Buffy didn’t even bother exploring – she was completely at home. She loved sitting on Mum’s bed, or, if Mum was sitting on a chair, then on her knee.

“I put a notice on Mum’s bedroom door, Please knock, cat in room, just in case Buffy would run out unexpectedly and get lost. This encouraged staff and visitors who wanted to see the cat to come and talk to Mum about Buffy and about their pets. It was so cheerful and lovely.  She enjoyed answering all their questions and hearing about their pets. Buffy just lay on the bed and purred and enjoyed all the attention.

“Philip, my Mum’s partner, also brought his cat into the hospice. Tiger enjoyed sitting at the patio doors and watching the birds on the bird feeders which we had put on the bushes outside.

“People miss their pets when they are in hospital. My mum lived on her own so her cats were her companions and family, not just a pet."

Cats asleep beside her

“At the end of January 2014, Mum was well enough to no longer need to stay at the hospice, so an organised discharge was planned.

“We cared for Mum, with visits from a district nurse and carers, until the day she died. Marie Curie kept in touch by phone and always offered help.

“The district nurse arranged for a Marie Curie Nurse to sit up overnight with Mum to give the family a rest. She came upstairs and said Mum’s breathing was slowing. We were able to go down and be with her. Mum passed away that night with her cats asleep beside her, but it was so peaceful. It was as perfect as you could make it and exactly what she wanted.”