A Legacy of Life and Love: The Story of Victor and Helen’s Life Together – and Her Peaceful Death at ellenor

For a couple in their early 80s, no one could accuse Helen and Victor of ‘acting their age’.

The pair, married for 40 years, still had plenty of life left in them – and so much left to do with it. From ocean cruises and jaunts to the south of France to tending their West Kingsdown cottage back home, life was full. Sweet. Enjoyable.

But then, Helen became ill. After a stint in hospital, and an initial misdiagnosis, the true cause of Helen’s symptoms came to horrifying light: pancreatic cancer.

“We were running on the assumption that it was a blocked bowel,” Victor explains. “She’d been receiving medication for that. So when the cancer diagnosis arrived, we were dumbfounded. In a state of pure shock.”

Helen was sent home. But as the days passed, her condition – and her pain – began to deteriorate. Victor, still in shock, was despairing.

But he did have something – a name, and a number. A lifeline.

Victor had heard about ellenor from paramedics – who’d visited earlier that evening – after asking about the nearest hospice. They’d given him ellenor’s number. Now, he picked up the phone and dialled it.

“It was late, and Helen was in a bad way. She begged me: ‘get me somewhere, Vic – I’m really, really in pain.’ So I phoned ellenor, and said ‘I’m in a bit of a state with this.’

Victor explained the situation, and Nele – the Ward Sister he was speaking with – had an instinct. She knew that Helen needed to get to ellenor, immediately – and advised Victor to get her there. Shortly after, Helen and Victor arrived.

“We were taken to a lovely room down at ellenor,” Victor says, “and the doctor started working with her in five minutes. Straight away, Helen was given a bed, medication for the pain, and made very comfortable.

“She got more comfortable, more comfortable… until she wasn’t in pain anymore. Then, of course, she slipped away.”

Helen died with dignity, in the arms of her husband of four decades. And the devastating course of Helen’s final days – which began with the shock of the diagnosis, and reached its lowest point with the increasing severity of her symptoms – was finally at an end. Not in pain – but in peace.

The speed and attention ellenor responded with – both on the phone, and when Helen was admitted onto its Northfleet-based inpatient ward – bought Helen precious relief from her agony. But it also bought her, and Victor, something equally precious – time.

“Those few hours were so important to us,” Victor explains. “They gave me the time to hold her, to cuddle her – time when she wasn’t hurting.”

The next day, Helen’s US-based brother – arrived. Despite taking the soonest flight, Helen had already passed by the time he arrived. But that didn’t mean there was nothing ellenor could do to provide even an ounce of closure.

“After Helen died, ellenor dressed her properly, and laid her out for her brother to see her. He’d flown thousands of miles – so for them to do that was lovely. The care and attention Helen was given – that ellenor gives to each patient, and their family – was impeccable. The detail. The nurses were so lovely: they helped an awful lot.”

Helen and her family’s treatment at ellenor before – and after – she died is a fitting way to honour a woman Victor calls a “private, hard-working lady who loved her grandchildren – who lived for her grandchildren.” Who had a florist in Sidcup, who worshipped her husband – and who was worshipped, by her husband, in turn.

ellenor: what a lovely relief. I wish we’d gotten Helen here earlier, to be frank. Even two days would’ve done it. But to accept Helen with such speed – and to make me comfortable too – was something else.

“The dignity she was able to die with was out of this world. I can’t praise ellenor enough.”

Victor acknowledges that, when it comes to both local charities and hospice care providers, not enough awareness exists. And he’s determined to give something back to the place that gave him and Helen – and gives the Kent and Bexley communities, every day – so much.

“You take places like this for granted,” says Victor. “You hear things about hospices, and places that offer palliative and end-of-life care. But you take them for granted.

“So I’m going to try and help out around here, going forward. I have a few little ideas!”

Helen is gone. But the legacy of her life, and her love for her family and friends, remains.

Be it in the pile of her things Victor recently found – containing Helen’s letters to her kids, and this year’s Christmas cards all written and ready to send – or Post-It Notes on the hob or washing machine explaining to Victor which settings to use, Helen’s memory lives on.

And, thanks to ellenor, Victor’s memory of her final moments are characterised not by fear, or stress, or suffering. But by love.