We all have our pandemic stories, and Margaret Grover’s is a triumphant one.
Just as the nation entered its first lockdown, Margaret was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and at the start of 2021, having decided not to undergo any further treatment, she was referred to Rennie Grove. Her husband, Bob, explains how the charity’s clinicians supported her and the whole family so that she could live well, see and do the things she wanted, and have a peaceful death in her own home when the time came.
“From our very first interactions with Rennie Grove, we were impressed,” he says. “For example, what should have been a 15-minute initial consultation at Grove House became a one-and-a-half-hour chat about Margaret’s diagnosis, needs and goals.”
At the time, Grove House wasn’t able to welcome groups of patients into the building, so Margaret joined the weekly wellbeing classes over Zoom instead.
“From late February until June, she would ‘meet’ half a dozen other people in similar situations and they would chat and share their ideas and frustrations, guided and supported by a clinician from Rennie Grove. She found that so helpful and she made a whole bunch of new friends during what could have been a really lonely, isolating few months,” says Bob.
“She loved doing the yoga and seated exercise classes online too with Rennie Grove,” adds Rachel, her daughter. “The charity’s clinicians were brilliant at getting her to identify and focus on one goal at a time, from getting back to doing yoga to having the confidence to drive again.”
Margaret had one very specific, clear and detailed entry on her personal bucket list: to go to Brighton, spend time with her granddaughter who was studying there and stay in a hotel with a balcony overlooking the sea.
“Luckily the Covid restrictions lifted, we were able to book just the hotel she had in mind and we had a wonderful trip down to Brighton at the start of June,” says Rachel. “Mum was able to paddle in the sea, walk around the city, enjoy meals out as a family, take a tour of the Pavilion and even ride on the carousel – one of her favourite things to do.
“She had the biggest smile on her face after she’d managed to clamber up onto the horse. It was a big, old-fashioned carousel with an organ inside and the horses were pretty high up! I went on it with her and the organ started to play ‘que sera, sera’ and we were singing along at the tops of our voices, thinking we’d be drowned out by the sound of the organ. But apparently everyone could hear us! It was wonderful – a really special moment and a magical memory to cherish.”
“We took hundreds of photos,” agrees Bob, “and we used one of them on the front of the order of service at Margaret’s funeral. That photo really cheered people up, when they realised Margaret had still been able to do the things she loved and that made her happy just a month before she died.”
Bob saw a marked decline in Margaret when they got back from Brighton; she was noticeably weaker and very short of breath.
“She’d achieved her main objective, and although she was on top form while we were in Brighton, the trip must have taken it out of her. Now her next objective was to stay as comfortable as possible and to die at home,” says Rachel.
“But she agreed to be admitted to Watford General for some tests towards the end of June. We had a frustrating week when she was not really improving, was becoming more agitated and just wanted to come home.
“Eventually the hospital palliative team got involved and were able to get her on the ‘fast track’ process to come home. Once that happened, everything fell into place with amazing efficiency and speed. Within 24 hours we had oxygen supply and a hospital bed at home, Mum was brought home by a wonderful ambulance team, all regular and anticipatory medicines were supplied, Rennie Grove’s Hospice at Home nurses were on call 24 hours a day, and the charity’s Rapid Personalised Care Service provided personal care visits for mum three times a day. We couldn’t have asked for more.
“The personal carers were without exception kind, gentle and happy people with lots of good tips and advice for us. And the Hospice at Home nurses were so calm and professional. They oozed competence, which was so very reassuring, and they had an ability to be completely honest and up front in a way that empowered rather than panicked you.
“Dad, my brother Simon and I were able to talk honestly and openly with mum about only having days left to live and to ask her how she wanted to spend that time. A pianist all her life, with a love of classical music shared by the whole family, she was able to listen to her beloved music in her lovely home. She also said she wanted people to come and see her at home to say goodbye.”
Bob explains: “So, for five consecutive days, Simon and I scheduled visits from five to six people every day. We were still limited by the rule of six so everyone had their timed slot! She got to see almost all the people she wanted to see – her brother and grandchildren, her local friends, and some very old friends from further afield. We sadly had to cancel the last two visits because she took a sudden turn for the worse.”
Rachel agrees: “The last thirty-six hours were hard as Mum became unconscious but was still agitated and in pain. We called the out-of-hours team at Rennie Grove several times over this period. They came as soon as they could, administered injections, and later set up a syringe driver to help her settle. It meant she could have a peaceful death, at home, as she wished.
“Mum always wanted to be at home, and the family had no hesitation in assuring her we’d make that happen. But it is still a shock when everyone departs and you’re responsible for caring for the person you love.
“Having the Rennie Grove nurses at the end of a phone, able to listen, advise or come out to us at any time of the day or night, gave us such peace of mind and made it possible for us to keep our promise to Mum and make sure she was as comfortable and peaceful as she could be.
“We’re very grateful to the Rennie Grove team for their wonderful care in the period leading up to, and at the end of, Mum’s life.”