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Alf’s Story

Alfred Barrett from Washington was cared for last summer by our Day Services team at St Benedict’s Hospice. Alf took the time last year to tell us just how much the support he and his family received meant to them.

I took ill on holiday back in 2011 and was diagnosed with heart failure, which I was told would be degenerative. I had a defibrillator and pacemaker implanted and was able to go back to work as a gardener until it got to the point where I had to retire. I could feel myself, physically and mentally, fading away. I wasn’t the person that I was and I was worried. I couldn’t do what I used to do, for example simple things like moving plant pots. I had difficulty breathing, was not very mobile and felt like I was letting my family down. Then the pandemic hit. I would burst into tears and not know why; it felt I was losing my personality and character. It was very difficult for my wife of 49 years, Diane, my son and the whole family.

In March 2021, I was referred to St Benedict’s. You hear the word ‘hospice’ and you think you’re going there to die, but being an optimist, I thought I had nothing to lose. The first thing that struck me was everything here is calm. I was given a seat and offered tea or coffee, followed by a three course meal – I thought I’d come to a hotel! I then spent the afternoon in a relaxation chair, chatting to the staff, who have such wide knowledge and so much respect for you as a person. They don’t talk at you, they encourage you and really listen to how you are feeling. I was pinching myself to have found such a special place.

I have seen a physiotherapist and taken part in a ‘Breathless’ course where I was given specialist equipment to help with my breathing. In occupational therapy I did gardening, which I enjoyed very much as it has always been such a huge part of my life. At the ‘Memory Lane’ workshop I learnt about memory boxes and have started putting things together for my son, John, daughter-in-law, Michelle, and grandchildren, Sophie, Charlie and Maisie. We also discussed fatigue and saving energy, and one of the hospice team came out to look at our home and made helpful suggestions about things we could adapt to make life easier.

From being so miserable, you can come in here and have a laugh. There are really interesting people here, you reminisce about the good times, what you used to do, and you’re encouraged to talk about that. With the help of the respectful, dedicated, skilful, kind and compassionate hospice staff and volunteers, I derived a wide variety of benefits. They gave me the tools and the practical solutions to my physical problems and supported me and my family emotionally. I did everything that was recommended and it has made a massive difference.

From knowing nothing about specialist palliative care, the experience myself and my family have had has made me so much more positive. It was my privilege and pleasure to have received care from the St Benedict’s Hospice team over recent months. I leave in a much better frame of mind. I’ve still got the same ailments but I have a more positive outlook. I am able to face reality and feel I have gained the tools to be able to deal with my illness.

With sincere gratitude, Alf.

Alfred died peacefully in February, aged 72. Diane, his wife, has asked us to share Alf’s story so that everyone knows how special St Benedict’s Hospice is to local people and to encourage everyone to support their amazing work this Christmas.