It was 1972. Gill, 20, heard a knock on the front door. Standing on the threshold was a man from British Gas, there to check the meter.
Charming and cheeky, he asked if Gill’s Mum was in. Gill – a mother of two – responded that she was the mum, and the two bantered. Gill and the man, Michael (soon to be just ‘Mick’ to her), would go on to be married for 40 years, and raise seven children together.
“We were so in love,” Gill says. “We were inseparable.”
In 2016, however – after beating three different cancers and surviving a stroke – Michael passed away.
“Michael was under ellenor’s care for six weeks. Near the end, a nurse told me not to go; to stay and spend some time with him. I cuddled him on the bed for a while, and didn’t realise he’d slipped away.”
Then as it is today, Gill’s grief was raw: her loneliness, profound.
“I didn’t like going home, because it was back to that empty house. One minute you’re on a high because you’re out enjoying yourself. Then, you put the key in the door and it’s such a lonely place.
“People ask you if you’re fine, and you say ‘yes’. But actually, it’s like you’re wearing a mask: you go on stage, you perform. But when you get home, the makeup comes off – and the sadness comes back.”
One lifeline came in the form of ellenor’s Bereavement Cuppa. It’s a safe, supportive space where bereaved people can come together to sit and chat with people on similar journeys.
At first, though, Gill was reluctant.
“When I first went to the Bereavement Cuppa,” she explains, “I thought ‘this isn’t for me.’ I didn’t want to be there. But at the end, the lady running it asked if I’d come back next week, and I said yes. I didn’t want to go again, but I’d promised – and I wanted to keep that promise.”
Five years on, and Gill still attends the Bereavement Cuppas. What’s more, Gill – now 70 years old – works for ellenor. Having trained as a Healthcare Assistant, she supports patients with life-limiting illnesses, and their families, on ellenor’s Northfleet-based inpatient ward.
“In the last few weeks of Mick’s life, ellenor came in and showed him respect, comfort, and dignity. I wanted to give that back; to care for patients the way ellenor cared for my husband. The way they should be treated. I just love coming here and helping to put a smile back on someone’s face – even if it’s only for a couple of hours.
“I get so much pleasure out of helping others. Helping others has helped me.”
Through ellenor, Gill found not just a career, but a calling. And from the Bereavement Cuppas, she found yet more – companionship.