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Both of Mark’s parents were supported by Hospice West Auckland in their final journey, and cared for by Hospice’s dedicated health and social care teams. The couple were married for 58 years before Mark’s father, Desmond, passed in 2016, and his mother, Ann, passed last year at the age of 84. While the loss of his parents is deeply, indelibly felt, Mark takes heart in the treasured connection and memories he and his family have.

Desmond and Ann were living in their unit at Glenburn Retirement Village when Desmond was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2014. About 18 months later he was referred to Hospice, who provided specialist palliative health care to help manage his pain and other symptoms. “The care from Hospice was marvellous,” says Mark. “It was so hard to watch Dad go downhill but Hospice was a huge support and prepared us for what was to come.”

As a Hospice patient, Desmond and his family had the opportunity to attend Race4Life’s Track Day at Hampton Downs in March 2016, where 70 palliative care patients from all over Auckland enjoyed high octane thrill rides around the racetrack as well as helicopter, Harley Davidson and Mack truck rides. Mark remembers it as being a cherished highlight that brought some much-needed joy into that very challenging time.

Despite having a supportive, close-knit family and a large faith community, Ann was never the same after losing Mark’s dad. “She struggled to see a positive side to her world after Dad passed away,” Mark explains. “She remained in her unit in the retirement village, which was a really safe and comfortable space for her. She could be a bit proud a lot of the time to tell us how she was feeling, yet she had a lot of health issues and we could see they were taking a real toll.”

Six years and multiple hospital visits later, Ann’s health had declined to the stage where once again Hospice was contacted to provide specialist care. “Because Hospice had cared for Dad, it was an easy decision to reach out again when Mum needed them,” says Mark. Clinical Nurse Specialist Charlie and Social Worker Patricia were part of the team that stepped in to support Ann, including arranging a syringe driver (also known as a pain pump) for continuous, measured delivery of her medication, which Mark was taught how to manage. “A lot of the detail during that time is a bit of a blur now, but I remember that we saw a lot of Charlie,” Mark recalls. “She was so lovely and Mum really loved her being there.”

Mark stayed with his mum in her unit for her final weeks, which he reflects on as being a super special time. “We did a lot of talking and remembering,” he smiles. “We’d always been close but having that time together was extra special. I’m so glad I had the chance to be there with her.”

Although Hospice’s Patricia raised the subject of an Advance Care Plan to put Ann’s preferences and plans in place, this had already been taken care of. Ann was an incredibly organised person who put all of her affairs in order, and even organised her own funeral, months in advance.

Mark used his woodworking skills to make a beautiful coffin for her, something he felt honoured to be able to do. She ensured that her possessions would be distributed fairly among the family by insisting that someone put their name on every single item. “She was doing this for what seems like years,” laughs Mark. “It became a bit of a family joke. We’d go there to visit and someone’s name would be on the bottom of a vase, for example, and my brother and I would constantly switch around the names just to tease her and each other!”

Like Desmond, Ann’s journey was eased by the dedicated professionals at Hospice and the Glenburn Retirement Village and Hospital teams, who provided not just physical care but also dignity and compassion. “As a family we were incredibly grateful to Hospice,” says Mark. “They were always really responsive when mum needed something. They were a part of our parents’ journey and made that end-of-life stage easier for all of us.”