Patient stories

Linda’s story

From the moment Steve found out his wife, Linda, had incurable cancer, St Barnabas was there to provide comfort and care at home and at the hospice. It’s now been over a year since Steve’s soulmate died and the bereavement art group has become a lifeline for him as he tries to navigate life without Linda. Steve has kindly shared their story.

“Total soulmates – we thought and acted as one”

If you’re fortunate in life, you will meet that one person who is as much a part of you as your own body and soul. For me, that person was Linda. We were in our thirties when fate brought us together at a party. As the only two smokers, we spent the evening outside by the dustbin – talking and drinking copious amounts of rough red wine. We discovered that we’d lived all our lives within half a mile of each other – Lin in the posh bit, and me on the council estate. An unlikely pairing, but we soon became inseparable.

In later years, Lin would refer to us as ‘two old socks’ - one no good without the other. How right she was, even though I did need a little darning in the beginning!  

“We enjoyed life while we could”

We didn’t have kids, so travel was our main hobby. And it is memories of the adventures we enjoyed over 31 years of marriage that help keep me sane now Lin has gone. Photos of our trips fill the wall in the lounge where her hospice bed was a year ago – we’re cruising through fjords in Norway, riding the Glacier Express in Switzerland and drinking beer in the pouring rain in Salzburg.

In 2016 we took early retirement so we could see more of the world, and it’s around that time that Lin started to have breathing trouble and problems walking. We were told repeatedly that it was chest infections and arthritis, and then lockdown came. Four years passed and Lin found herself in agony after a physio appointment, so she was sent for an X-ray. The sharp-eyed radiologist spotted abnormalities and Lin was immediately admitted to hospital for a month over Christmas 2020. Scans showed that she had lung cancer which had spread to her bones, and later her brain. We were devastated – it could have been diagnosed years earlier.

Once the diagnosis had sunk in, we realised our 10-year plan for a wonderful retirement would never happen – our talked about trips and adventures gone. We even sold our caravan in February at a great loss as we couldn’t bear to see it on the drive, a symbol of those lost dreams.

“If I can sum up St Barnabas in one word, it would be ‘comforting’”

When Lin was referred to St Barnabas, the hospice road sign I used to pass in my car took on a different meaning. Our first visit was for a blood transfusion, and Lin stayed for a week while she got her strength up and I got some rest. Compared to hospitals which are busy and methodical, I couldn’t believe how tranquil the hospice felt. The staff were never rushed, and Lin loved the beautiful gardens and homecooked food.

Sadly, it got to the point where the transfusions stopped working because Lin’s kidneys were shutting down. At that point, St Barnabas worked tirelessly to make her comfortable at home with Ali, an amazing nurse in the community team, visiting multiple times a day.

“There is no preparation for when the time comes”

On 28 October 2021, two old socks became one when Lin died peacefully at home with the support of St Barnabas. I was heartbroken. During the day there was an endless stream of paperwork to deal with and a funeral to arrange, and by the evening I was drinking like a fish to help me sleep. I missed the other half of me so much that sometimes I’d lie in bed and seriously contemplate not being alive. Talking to a St Barnabas counsellor helped bring me back from the brink during those dark times. Those first twelve sessions were invaluable, and after they ended my counsellor told me about the bereavement art group at the hospice. I said I’d give it a go, but I was dreading it because I didn’t think of myself as artistic and I’m not a fan of group activities.

“The bereavement art group has become a lifeline”

Before I started going to the bereavement art group, I thought the pain I was feeling was unique to me. But I found myself in a room full of people who were in the same boat and each week I felt less alone.

Led by Stevan, the artist in residence, the group now feels like a little social club where we can be creative and at the same time talk openly about some of life’s taboo subjects like death and grief. We’re all encouraged to experiment with different techniques and materials to see what we enjoy. From painting to monoprinting, photography and sculpture, each project really makes you think and appreciate art in different forms.

The piece that I am most proud of is called ‘Lifecycle’ which tells the story of two old socks through a network of coloured copper heating pipes. It came about after Stevan asked us to find an object that represents us to create a piece of art with. I choose my trusty pipe pliers because they have helped me with projects all my life and also signify the maintenance that all relationships need. The colours of the pipe represent the different stages of a relationship; green – the shoots of a new love, yellow – the spring of an evolving relationship, flowing into the golden age of companionship. And then inevitably there comes separation, the black of death for one and the grey and lonely wilderness of grief for the remaining soul.

“They say time heals, but I think that’s rubbish”

There is no timeline for grief, I still miss Lin every minute of the day. But lonely nights watching rubbish on the telly, drinking wine, and being in bed at nine-o-clock are becoming tedious. She’d want me to have a life, and to go travelling again. So, I’ve booked our favourite cabin on the P&O Ventura cruise ship where we spent many hours together and I’ll be sailing to the Canary Islands in November. It’s now all about remembering the happy memories and good times, of which we were lucky enough to have had many.

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