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Ruth’s story – Remembering mum with a Coffee Morning

Ruth Penberthy tells us why she held her Hospiscare Coffee Morning in memory of her mum, Joan.

Here at Hospiscare, we know the difference that a cuppa can make. Thousands of cups of tea and coffee are made each year in our hospice, providing comfort for our patients and their families.

Every year, we ask our community to join us in putting the kettle on by holding a Coffee Morning to support our local charity.

People choose to hold a Coffee Morning for all kinds of reasons, from a love of baking to a good excuse to get together for a natter and a slice of cake. For Ruth Penberthy, her Coffee Morning was held in memory of a very special lady.

When Ruth saw the fundraising leaflet calling for members of the community to hold a Hospiscare Coffee Morning, she thought “I could do that”. Ruth knew that it would be a special way to remember her mum, Joan, and to give something back to the charity who supported her.

An elderly lady wearing a purple suit jacket

Joan moved to Devon in 1970 and the town of Hatherleigh had been her home ever since. It was where she gave birth to her two children, Ruth and her older brother Andrew. Ruth explains, “We were a very close family and we became even closer after the tragic death of my dad in 1984.

“My mum was amazing and even though she was grieving for her husband, she was a tower of strength and kept going for us.

“Mum was thrilled when I met and married David in 1991 and gave her two beautiful grandsons. My brother, Andrew, married his partner in 2006 and gave mum her hat trick of grandsons. She was thrilled with the three boys but always joked that a little girl would be nice for a change. In 2007, Andrew and his wife Katie granted her wish. Mum was a huge part of all of our lives and spoilt all the grandchildren!”

In October 2017, Joan became ill. At the time, her family thought it was just an iron deficiency. She battled on and was thrilled to become a great grandma to Scarlett in February 2018. Despite feeling increasingly unwell, Joan offered to babysit and help out whenever she could.

An elderly lady feeding a baby its bottle

Joan holding baby Scarlett

By April that same year, Joan’s health was considerably worse and her family persuaded her to go to the doctors. Tests confirmed that her blood levels were so low that it was a wonder that she was still functioning. Further tests at the hospital found that the cause of her blood loss was a large tumour in her bowel.

The whole family was devastated by this news. Joan returned home and the hospital put her family in touch with Hospiscare for advice and support. Hospiscare Clinical Nurse Specialist Clare came to visit Joan and her family. Ruth says,

“We were all so impressed by Clare’s wonderful, caring nature. She completed forms for us regarding Attendance Allowance and Blue Badge parking and offered to call in regularly to see mum and help us if we needed anything.

“Mum went back into hospital for a stoma bag operation and was there for almost a month. During that time, Clare phoned us every so often to check how we were doing.

“Three days after returning home from the hospital, mum sadly passed away in June, just two months after receiving her diagnosis.

“To say we were devastated is an understatement. The whole family was reeling after this huge loss. We gave mum an amazing send-off with all of her favourite hymns and music at her funeral, which was held at Hatherleigh Methodist Church. The church was packed and so many people stayed afterwards to honour her.

“We have seen Clare since mum’s death at two Hospiscare Light up a Light services and each time she has chatted away to us and been so lovely.”

Inspired by the kindness and support offered by Clare and the Hospiscare team, Ruth wanted to give something back to the people who were there when her family needed it.

Ruth has always enjoyed baking and holding a Coffee Morning felt like the right way to celebrate memories of baking with her mum, including preparing cricket teas together for Hatherleigh Cricket Club for 20 years.

Before requesting her Coffee Morning pack, Ruth made sure that Hatherleigh Methodist Church was available on the date she wanted. The venue holds real significance for Ruth and her family: “Mum was a member of the Methodist Church and used to teach Sunday school and play the organ there. I married my husband at the church and all four of mum’s grandchildren were christened there. It is also where we held mum and dad’s funerals.”

Ruth is grateful for the support she received from her community, saying “Several friends offered to help on the day or bake cakes and I wrote to lots of local businesses asking if they would donate a prize for the draw.

“The pack I received from Hospiscare had some useful hints and tips, as well as posters and donation boxes, so I felt supported by the charity to hold my Coffee Morning.

“Mum was well-known and loved in Hatherleigh, which is why I think our Coffee Morning was so well supported. The venue was significant, as well as the date I chose – the day before my birthday – so Mum was very much in mind.”

Ruth’s Coffee Morning was a fitting tribute to her wonderful mum. Ruth received a touching surprise on the day from her son’s partner, Harriet, who had thoughtfully asked the bakers to top the main cake with the family’s favourite photo of Joan.

Ruth and her family, together with the community of Hatherleigh, raised almost £600 to support our patients and their families.

You can make a difference to end-of-life care in your community by putting the kettle on for Hospiscare this April. Simply click here to sign up.