Saint Francis Hospice made it possible for Ray to have the last word. His wife, Moira, writes.
Ray was a wonderfully funny, inspirational and compassionate man with a brilliant mind. He was a practising vet but was also involved in lecturing, teaching, writing and supporting animal welfare globally. He was loved and respected all around the world.
The future looked good as grandchildren beckoned and even retirement one of these days. But on his 60th birthday in 2012 the first warning signs flickered. Some months later he was diagnosed with a fast growing brain tumour and the prognosis was not good.
Part of the tumour - or Juan, as Ray called it - was removed. Sadly a post-operative infection caused seizures; he lost the ability to walk or talk and was given three months to live.
Ray was admitted to a nursing home where he received palliative care from hospice nursing staff. Gradually, the ability to walk and talk returned and he came home. For a while, Juan was quiet! However, Ray still found speech challenging and was unable to initiate conversation. Despite intensive treatment during the next two years, it eventually became a matter of time.
For Ray, day therapy at Saint Francis Hospice was a joy! It was his chance to get out, be independent, make new friends and yet be safe. When told about the ‘This Is Your Life’ group, where patients share life stories and concentrate on the person behind the illness, he was keen to take part. But Ray could not retrieve information without prompts. How would it work?
I decided to collect a few photos of Ray during his life, to show the group and encourage questions. Once I started, it seemed silly not to do it properly - here was a chance to record the main events of his life for his grandchildren. The photographic record of Ray’s life was born!
As his moment approached, I anxiously wondered if he’d be able to say anything. The hospice staff went the extra mile, giving Ray additional time to accommodate his needs.
Sue Spong, a hospice counsellor, facilitated the group: “The ‘This is your Life’ group offers a simple concept of giving our patients their 15 minutes of fame.
“Ray had been part of the group the previous week, he had listened while his friends told of their lives, careers, loves, where they were born and so much more. I was aware from the nurses that Ray and Moira had embraced the idea and were putting something together, so I decided to dedicate the whole hour the following week to Rays story.
“Arriving in Day Therapy the anticipation was palpable; copies of Ray’s story were being looked at before the group had even started.
“In the designated room were patients, staff, volunteers and chaplains...the most that had ever attended.
“Our nurse, Amie, gently prompted Ray with questions about the photos and slowly, he responded. It worked!
“Ray’s was a life of success personally and professionally and certainly a life that has made a difference to those people, places and animals he encountered.
“Towards the end of the hour, the picture of Ray in West Ham colours, clutching a microphone, led to me asking what he was singing and he replied “Bubbles”. At that moment one of Ray's hospice friends took out a harmonica and we all started to sing. It was a magical moment.”
Knowing the importance of seeing the person behind the illness, I showed the book to Ray’s carers and hospital consultant. The hospice have also used it to create a training video to encourage professionals to find the person who may be hidden by their illness, as Ray was.
Saint Francis Hospice staff have gone that extra mile to make Ray’s photographic biography something valued not only by his family, but of value to the wider community. If professionals can begin to know the person, if families have a tool to help impaired communication, if future generations have a record of a loved one’s life, then Ray has left a wonderful legacy.
he nursing care that Ray received and the support we have had as a family is truly outstanding. However, the extra mile is one where something of lasting value is achieved. All I can do is thank you from the bottom of my heart, not only for looking after my beloved Ray, but also allowing Ray, and not Juan, to have the last word.