Retired police officer Val Mattock dedicated herself to looking after her community, her family and her beloved dogs, but when she needed care at the end of her life, it was Eden Valley Hospice who could be there for her and husband Graham at the time when they needed it most.
This is Val and Graham’s story:
For Val Mattock her dog Cheil was the apple of her eye and when she died in Eden Valley Hospice in 2019, the beloved westie was able to be by her side in her final hours.
“She was a very caring person, she looked after me anyways, although I come second of course, the dog came first,” says Graham.
“We’ve had two dogs in our time, a Labrador and Chiel the westie. I knew my place, but that was fine. Val and I had a very close relationship and spent a lot of time together. When she retired, she was a homemaker, and a very good one at that. The house was spotless, she was a brilliant cook, a brilliant baker, she was brilliant to be with.”
Both former police officers, Graham and Val met at work and were married six months later, spending 34 years together in total. After they’d both retired, they sold up and bought a narrowboat and toured the country for several years before deciding to once again live on dry land and settled in Appleby in the Eden Valley 2018, being attracted to the town initially because Graham’s sister had a holiday home there.
However, it was just a matter of weeks after moving to Appleby when some devastating news would arrive. In late November of 2018 Val noticed a lump on her side and after initially thinking it would just be something minor which would go away, she went to the doctors. However, it wasn’t until after Christmas when Graham noticed she wasn’t eating so well, that another appointment was made with the doctor.
Graham explains: “In the new year she went to see Dr Bell at the surgery, who also worked at the hospice, from her experience she wasn’t too happy about it, and she sent Val for a scan at Carlisle hospital, and they come back and confirmed it was pancreatic cancer. It was stage four, it had spread to her liver and spread to her lymph nodes.
“Even though she had cancer and was terminally ill at that stage, she was still fit enough to walk around here, go into the fells and was perfectly fine.”
However, things quickly began to take their toll on Val, the cancer was getting a firmer grip and Graham admits they had frustrations with the treatment they were receiving from the NHS. Val was then put onto a syringe driver because she was in a lot of pain and district nurses were seeing her daily for several weeks.
One day, Graham noticed Val was jaundice and a Macmillan nurse who’d been supporting them confirmed she’d need a blood transfusion and managed to secure her a bed in Eden Valley Hospice in early April to have the transfusion.
“When I left home on the Monday, she was going in for a couple of days and then coming home, that was the plan,” Graham says.
“The doctor came to assess her, the doctor said she couldn’t have the transfusion because she was too ill, and that she was end of life, which was a complete punch in the stomach. I didn’t realise she only had a matter of days to go. I had to tell her we weren’t going home which was pretty tough. It was the conversation that I had to have with her which was the hardest bit as she didn’t know she was at that stage.”
Graham went home packed a bag, got the dog and came back to the hospice – seeing Val every day and spending precious time with her, whilst being supported by the dedicated hospice staff, until she died the following Monday.
And Graham cannot speak highly enough of the care and support he and Val received whilst in the hospice.
“In the last week of Val’s life we had 24/7 care. The staff were in incredible in there, they were really nice, how they do that job I don’t know. The staff are great, every time we needed help they were there, day or night, they really looked after me as well. If you were to ever choose a way to die, I would choose the way Val did, because she just slipped away very quietly and peacefully.
“I can’t fault the care we had. They looked after us so well, day and night they were there for us when we needed it most. We would never have coped at home because she needed a high level of intervention and care. All in all, it wasn’t a pleasant experience in terms of why we were there, but I can’t fault the staff and how they were there for us.
“Val didn’t want to die at home as she said she didn’t want me to have memories of her dying at home. I remember the hospice being a nice place, if you go there to visit it’s not full of doom and gloom. I know lots of people do go there to die, but I felt as though it was a pleasant place to be. The staff were always upbeat and trying to chivvy you along.”
Since Val’s death Graham has continued to the support the hospice in a number of ways.
He became a qualified spinning instructor and said whatever he made from doing classes would go back to the hospice. While the Covid pandemic put a half to his spinning fundraising for while, as soon as he was able to restart classes – even doing some in his garden – he continued raising money for the hospice.