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Mark Duffell outside the hospice grounds.

Mark Duffell

27 June 2023

In 2017 Brian Duffell spent his final days in the hospice and his son Mark and the rest of the family were blown away by the care, support and friendliness they were shown by all the Eden Valley Hospice team. Mark has since joined the board of trustees at the hospice as a way of giving back to the organisation who helped make every moment matter for his family. 

This is Mark’s story: 

Brian Duffell was to everyone who knew him a “gentleman and a gentle man”.

A Carlisle man through and through, Brian’s life ended where it had begun more than 70 years previously… in Harraby. Where he grew up was just a couple of miles away from Eden Valley Hospice, the place that would at the end of his life provide him and his family with incredible care, love and support.

It was in December of 2017 that Brian came into the hospice after he’d deteriorated since being diagnosed with cancer in the summer of that year, while Brian had also been living with Alzheimer’s for more than two years.

“He was from Harraby originally and by fate the room where he spent his last days was named Harraby,” explains Mark.

“He effectively went back to Harraby for the end of his life.”

But for Mark and the rest of his family, those five days that Brian spent in the hospice are not ones they dread to think about it, in fact the sadness of losing their dad is surrounded by long-lasting, smile-filled memories.

Among those memories the family holds dear is when Mark’s nephew Nicky’s 18th birthday took place while Brian was being cared for in the hospice and he opened his presents there. That celebration, which took place just a day before Brian died, is something which will always be a happy memory for the family who credit the hospice with being able to make every final moment they had together matter.

Mark adds: “They did everything. The most important thing they did was stress how much this was our time. There was never any pressure to do anything or to go home, it was clear we could spend as much time there as we wanted.”

“My dad was a Roman Catholic, so we needed a priest for the last rites, they sorted that. It’s just the way they are, it’s how they make you feel.

“Walking into a hospice is tough, because I knew why I was there, but from the moment you walk in you’re comforted by the way they speak to you, the way they talk to you. The number of times they asked if I was OK, checked that my mum was OK.

“But most of all it was the way they were with my dad, there was a tenderness, a care. Even though he was asleep they would talk to him, they would talk to us, they would always explain what they were doing.

“It was like nothing was ever too much for them, it felt like a really personalised service to us. Like we were the most important people there and obviously we weren’t because there were plenty of other people in that situation. They made it clear it was our space, if we wanted to be on our own, we could be, if we needed them, they could be there.

“It was on the Monday evening around 6pm we said goodbye to him. It was tough, but the way the team was with us as a family and the way they looked after my dad in those last four or five days just blew us away. I’ve said this several times and I mean it, it’s a debt we can never repay.

“I know it’s their job, but it goes beyond just being a job. It never felt like they were just doing their job. It felt like this was something they genuinely cared about, that my dad meant something to them, that everybody from care staff, clinical staff, admin staff, everybody, even if they were just getting you a sandwich, they made you feel like you mattered.”

Following on from this experience of the hospice, Mark swore to one of the nurses that he’d come back and help in some way. His family have also supported the hospice ever since through donations, fundraising efforts, taking part in events and volunteering.

But it was around a year after Brian’s passing that Mark, a freelance communications consultant, reached out to the hospice’s management to see if he could help in any way. With years of experience in marketing and communications for some of the biggest companies in the country, he hoped his skills could support the charity and help it continue to provide incredible care, like his dad received just a few years earlier. 

Early in 2021 50-year-old Mark applied to become a trustee and was successful in being accepted onto the board. 

“I went downstairs to tell my wife that I’d got it and phone my mum and I burst into tears because it was just such a big moment for me,” Mark remembers.

“It was because it is an organisation that I really care about, it’s a people organisation and there are so many good people there. The care team is amazing, it’s just a fantastic place. So to be able to put something back and bring my experience to bear for the hospice feels amazing because it’s an organisation that I really care about.

“My mum always says my dad would be proud of me, which gives me a lump in my throat. He would want this, it’s the kind of thing my dad would’ve done. I can’t claim to be the same gentleman he was, but I feel like I’m doing something in memory of my dad and I love doing things like this.”

Brian left behind two children – Mark and Anita – along with five grandchildren Niamh, Nicholas, Nathan, Olly and Lottie.

He started his working life in the tax office before moving on to local accountancy firm Armstrong Watson where he worked his way up to Tax Manager, a job he loved, before retiring at the company aged 67. Married to Margaret, they’d passed their golden wedding anniversary and latterly lived in the Stanwix area of Carlisle.

In his spare time, Brian ran a football team which Mark played in and coached a young Steve Harkness, who went on to play for Liverpool FC more than 100 times. A big musician, Brian also played the trumpet in dance bands when he was younger with Mark’s granddad. He was big Carlisle United fan and a Tottenham fan and just a “brilliant dad”, according to Mark.