Patient stories

Nina’s story

Thanks to our supporters, we were able to give Kris and his beloved wife Nina the chance to spend precious time together. Kris tells you what this meant to both of them

Kris talks about his late wife, Nina:

We lost touch for 13 years and then found each other again

I first met Nina when I was a young lad in the Royal Navy. She was helping out at her parents’ hotel in Portsmouth, and I went there for a drink with her brother, Martin, who I was serving with on HMS Ark Royal. Apparently, when she saw me, she told Martin, “I’m going to marry that man!” We did get together when I was 21, but it wasn’t the right time and we ended up going our separate ways.

Nina went on to become a nurse and I continued to serve in the Navy. But then 13 years later, ‘Friends Reunited’ brought us back together. I was trying to find Martin on the website to arrange a night out. He wasn’t on there, but Nina was, and I ended up swinging by to see her on the way to visit my Mum for the weekend. I never left. When I tried to get to my Mum’s the following day, my car broke down and I had to go back to Nina’s. Next thing you know we were married, and I was enjoying the best years of my life.

Image of two people hugging

Nina was an unstoppable force of nature

Life was colourful with Nina in it. She was beautiful inside and out, with the ability to bring out the best in everyone. She was adventurous, rode a motorbike and you could always find her in the front row at gigs. I admired how she lived life to the full, and I loved living it with her.

We explored the world together – visiting the Maldives (where Nina fell in love with the hermit crabs), going snorkelling in Antigua and dining out in San Francisco. On the rare occasions she wasn’t out having fun, Nina loved to curl up on the sofa with me and read a book. She said I was the right shape for cuddling. We just fitted together like a jigsaw.

Being ill wasn’t going to stop her

In late 2015, we received the devastating news that Nina had renal cancer. After surgery to remove a tumour from her kidney she got the all-clear. But three months later her symptoms returned, and we were told the cancer had spread and was now incurable.

If Nina had one fault, it was her stubbornness. But it was that determination not to let her illness define her that made us focus on packing everything we could into the time we had left together. We laughed more, went to more gigs, and partied at more festivals. We’d even make a day of her hospital appointments – go for lunch, see some friends, and just have fun.

The friends Nina made at the hospice were a huge support

Sadly, two years after her diagnosis, Nina’s condition started to deteriorate. She was struggling and wanted to speak to people in similar situations, and that’s when we found St Barnabas House. Nina went there for all sorts of social activities, including massages and art sessions. Over the weeks she made a close circle of friends at the hospice – a bunch of fun-loving troublemakers like her!

When Nina made the decision to stop all hospital treatment, her St Barnabas friends were a big support. She realised she’d go downhill quickly, but she wasn’t nervous about being admitted to the hospice for end-of-life care. She knew she would be in the best hands possible.

It was as good as being at home

It was early April when we arrived. The birds were tweeting, the spring flowers were out and the view of the gardens from Nina’s room was serene.

Being at the hospice felt like having a big invisible arm around our shoulders. Everyone was so kind to both of us – the cleaners, the nurses, the cooks – and between them, they took the pressure off so we could just focus on being together.

Image of two people getting married

For me, that precious gift of time meant so much because I knew those final days, those final memories, were the last I was going to have. Thanks to St Barnabas House I was able to capture every single one of them and pack them away.

St Barnabas House gave us dignity

For Nina, being cared for at the hospice also meant she was able to maintain her dignity. She liked that I didn’t have to wash or feed her. I could just be her husband and she never felt embarrassed or like she was a burden. The team made sure her pain was managed, and she enjoyed the little touches, such as having her nails painted and feet massaged.

Another thing Nina appreciated was being able to sit down with someone at the hospice and talk through her final wishes. She decided on a willow casket interwoven with flowers, picked the poems and the music for her funeral ceremony and insisted on having a celebrant rather than a religious service.

Not long after making these decisions Nina started to sleep more and talk less. I stayed with her day and night, just holding her hand and feeling that closeness. I’d promised Nina I’d be there at the end and, on 8 April 2018, she died on my chest, having a hug – her favourite place to be. Her brother, Martin, was also by her side and we were given as much time as we needed with Nina.

Close up image of two people embracing

It’s nice to know I have St Barnabas House in my back pocket

At the beginning there were lots of dark days, but thankfully they’re getting fewer. I’ll be honest, I find it hard to talk about how I’m feeling. But I know that if I knocked on St Barnabas’s door tomorrow and said I was struggling I’d be invited in and offered counselling.

For now though, I’m comforted by the fact that I can still feel Nina’s arms around me. I speak of her in the past tense, but the reality is that she’s still with me – she hasn’t gone. I still get butterflies in my stomach when I think of her. I see her when I close my eyes. I hear her voice and everywhere I go has a memory, an imprint of Nina.

Could you help us continue to support people like Nina and Kris?

It's costs over £9 million a year to run St Barnabas House and the majority of our funds come directly from people like you who generously donate to us.