Holly’s grandad Joseph Gillespie was cared for on the Inpatient Unit at Wigan and Leigh Hospice for four weeks in April to May 2019.
The Atherton great-grandfather had been re-diagnosed with bladder cancer on March 7th after being clear for several years and went into hospital on March 28th to have the tumour removed.
Joseph and his family expected the independent 89-year-old to be out of hospital within 24 hours but were then told his condition was incurable.
Loud and bubbly
Holly, a training officer for the DWP, said: “It was meant to be a straightforward operation and we were planning on going on a cruise but then we found out his cancer had spread and that he was terminal.
“Grandad was a real character, quite loud and bubbly, and gardening-mad. Until the day he was admitted into hospital he was still driving, doing his own shopping and going for veterans’ lunches, so his diagnosis hit us like a tonne of bricks.”
A few years beforehand Joseph had still been doing the job he loved as a window-cleaner. He began window-cleaning at 17 but at 82 years old he was forced to stop after being diagnosed with bladder cancer the first time around in 2012 and suffering a heart attack.
After his second diagnosis of bladder cancer in March 2019 Joseph spent several weeks in hospital before being transferred to the hospice on April 17th.
In the garden
Holly said: “Grandad wanted to be pain-free, to be outside and in the garden and that is where the hospice came in – he wouldn’t have got that anywhere else. The hospice gave him some of his final wishes because by being there we could wheel him out in his bed to feel the sun on his face and be in a garden. The garden was the selling point of the hospice for us. Grandad chatted to the gardener and passed on some of the things he’d learnt over the years and we organised an Easter Egg Hunt for his great-grandchildren in the garden. We have photos of them there and of his room which we decorated with Easter decorations – we made memories while we were there which we otherwise wouldn’t have had.
“He kept saying he wanted to go home and sleep in his own bed so for us there was some guilt because we couldn’t make that happen but the hospice let us bring in his own blanket and pillow and have his dog on the bed with him.
“We went through a really difficult time and we were probably quite demanding as a family because he was in pain but through it all the nursing team and volunteers were so lovely to him and that is something that we’ll never be able to repay them for.
“They gave us so much time with him, let us have what we needed and talked us through what was happening, all of which made it so much easier for us.”
Joseph died early in the morning on May 15th in his room on the Inpatient Unit.
Holly said: “Although it was the day of his death, it was a nice day. We went and sat outside his bedroom and it was so peaceful – all you could hear were the birds – and the nurses brought us each a lock of his hair. One of the nurses took a handprint which we hadn’t asked for but it was such a lovely gesture and these are the things that made it bearable.”
Later that morning Holly was having a hot drink in the hospice café when she noticed a poster advertising the hospice’s Strictly dance event and she immediately decided to sign up.
“I got chatting with Maxine from the fundraising team at reception and signed up,” she said.
“Grandad passed away at 5.15am and by 10am I’d signed up for Strictly. It was really fitting because grandad was a ballroom dancer and since the competition I’ve carried on with dancing with my husband Ian which I know would have made grandad happy.
“It puts everything into perspective when your family need help. I wanted to fundraise by taking part in Strictly because someone out there raised money to help families like mine so I wanted to do the same for other families. I know the hospice is a charity and needs our support and I just can’t imagine it ever not being there.”
Joseph was 89 years old when he died leaving behind a brother, 2 daughters, 1 son, 8 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. He was buried with his Royal Artillery cap and badge.