In the near seven weeks that Martin Smythies was cared for at St Catherine’s Hospice, he was able to enjoy precious time with his wife and three children in a place they came to call ‘home’.
From ordering takeaways and having a family picnic, to accompanying his little boy on his first day at school, the family were able to create special memories during a very difficult time, thanks to the support they received from the hospice.
As Lorraine prepares to take on the charity’s biggest annual fundraiser, the Moonlight and Memories Walk, she explains how the specialist care along with the ‘small touches’ provided by St Catherine’s made all the difference throughout Martin’s final weeks.
“People think of St Catherine’s as a place you come to die, and they think it must be all doom and gloom,” Lorraine says. “But Martin knew what to expect because his uncle was cared for at the hospice, and it’s such an upbeat and happy place.
“The staff do anything they can for you. They even booked me in for a massage with one of the therapists when I was feeling stressed. It’s little touches like that which make such a big difference. You don’t realise how much you need that kind of support until you get it.
“They think about the whole family too. When it was our son Louie’s first day at school, St Catherine’s arranged for a taxi to take us all there, with Martin in his wheelchair, so that we could spend the morning together and so that Martin could take him to school on his first day. That meant a lot to him. The hospice hairdresser also gave Louie a haircut ready for his first day.
“And they would give us hot chocolate, biscuits and toast for supper in the evenings, so I think that’s something that the children will remember fondly.
“St Catherine’s made the last few weeks we had together really happy. Now I just what to do anything I can to help raise money so that they can help more families like ours.”
Lorraine, aged 39 and from Leyland, said St Catherine’s became a second home for the family during Martin’s stay.
“Louie and I stayed over throughout the week and we had our normal morning routine of having breakfast, a shower, and then off to school. Martin’s 14-year-old son Cameron and my 20-year-old daughter Chloe came to stay over at the weekends, and we used to have little picnics in the hospice, I’d bring in treats and snacks.
“We even held a big teddy bears’ picnic in the Garden Room at the hospice when my family came to visit from Scotland. Martin didn’t want his nieces and nephews seeing him in bed, so we threw a party which was really special. It tired Martin out, but he loved it; all the children were pushing him around in his wheelchair. We made lots of happy memories at St Catherine’s.
“He was also very much an outdoor person – he kept our garden beautiful – so he loved that he could open the patio doors from his room at St Catherine’s onto the grounds and go out in his wheelchair. It helped him keep his independence, which was very important to him.”
The couple first met aged 10 and went through primary school and high school together, and reunited when they kept accidently meeting in pubs around Leyland and Chorley. Martin carried out motorways maintenance before studying at university to become a counsellor.
Lorraine, who works as a customer advisor for a mobile phone company, says: “Whenever Martin was in a room, everyone was laughing – I think that’s why I fell in love with him. He was a joker, and everywhere Martin went, he made a friend.
“Martin was all for his kids – he was mischievous! Wherever he went, Louie wasn’t far behind, and Martin called him his wingman. They were so close. Louie thought his daddy could fix anything. They were always in the garden building things like bird boxes or digging for worms.
“He enjoyed taking Cameron to play football at the weekend and they used to get a sneaky McDonald’s and think I didn’t know about it! And he and Chloe would try to help each other out with their school and university homework. So it meant a lot to him that the children could visit whenever they wanted at St Catherine’s, sleep overnight and spend some quality time together in his final weeks.
“We even got Chinese food and Domino’s pizza delivered – the reception staff always knew it was for us when the takeaways arrived! We used to go to the Beijing in Leyland on Sundays, and the owner Jacky Poon sent him some soup and prawn crackers to the hospice when he found out Martin was staying there. That was a really nice moment, Martin loved that.”
Martin had suffered with heart failure for years and had a pace maker, but he fell ill in October 2017 and knew something else was wrong. Doctors initially put it down to IBS, but after he lost a lot of weight and continued to suffer with pain, an x-ray found he had a twisted bowel.
“When they operated they found a tumour,” Lorraine says. “By July 2018 he was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer, and in August they said it wasn’t treatable. He was in hospital for three days before coming to St Catherine’s.”
Martin died at the hospice on September 13, aged just 38.
Lorraine is now determined to raise vital funds for the charity in his memory and will be striding out in the hospice’s poignant 10-mile Moonlight and Memories Walk on July 6.
Meanwhile other members of Martin’s family are also pulling together in support of St Catherine’s – his step sister is training for a 10k run; his mum and step dad are taking on the hospice’s abseil challenge; and the family is organising a fly fishing competition for later this year, as this was one of Martin’s favourite hobbies.
Emma Jacovelli, head of community engagement at St Catherine’s Hospice, thanked Lorraine and the family for their wonderful support.
“We’re so grateful for their efforts and are looking forward to welcoming Lorraine to our Moonlight and Memories Walk.
“It’s bound to be an emotional occasion, but the atmosphere is always very special as hundreds of people come together for their own very personal reasons, to do something so positive in aid of the hospice.
“We’re so pleased St Catherine’s could be there for Martin, Lorraine and the children when they needed us and helped them to create precious memories together. The support of St Catherine’s doesn’t stop when a loved one has died, and our Moonlight and Memories Walk is just one of several occasions throughout the year when we invite our community to join us to remember and reflect together.”
Lorraine said she was looking forward to the night, after first taking part around eight years ago.
“Martin wanted to do it but it would have been too much for him because of his heart,” she said. “So I did it on his behalf in honour of his uncle. It was very tiring but it felt good, it was a really rewarding experience.
“The atmosphere was fantastic because you chat with other walkers about their reasons for doing it, and everyone jollies each other on; it was quite joyous.
“I’m doing it by myself this year. I know Martin will be with me and everyone is being really supportive; I want to do this for him and for myself. I think it will be hard and emotional but a very special night.”