PUBLISHED: 15:41 23 March 2016 | UPDATED: 15:41 23 March 2016
Carol Sandiford remembers with fondness the nurturing experience of artist husband Adrian's days spent at Leckhampton Court
That year the frost had set in before Christmas, hoar frost etching the trees and the temperature plummeting. That’s how it was on the night of December 8, 2010 when, after a nightmare day of pain and nausea my husband, Adrian, was admitted to the Sue Ryder hospice at Leckhampton Court. This wasn’t his first visit there. A good 18 months earlier his palliative care nurse had arranged for him to have a reflexology session; ‘feet tickling’ Adrian called it. When he found out that I was included in this ‘package’, his grudging acceptance quickly changed to pleasure. However, he went only twice and then decided not to go again. Like so many people he was reluctant to draw near to the hospice, seeing it only as a place associated with dying, something that he wasn’t ready to contemplate.
Later, after several stays in Cheltenham General Hospital and having accepted that it would not be wise to have any more treatment for his cancer, we had gone to visit Dr Paul Perkins, the consultant at the hospice. Dr Perkins said that if we needed to contact him we could, at any time, day or night. That seemed to me then an incredible offer to make and when, at nine o’clock in the evening of the day when Adrian was finally admitted, the out of hours doctor said she had nothing more she could give him. I suggested that she might phone Paul – a very long shot, I thought. However, in just a few minutes he phoned back and said we should go to the hospice, and at midnight Adrian was admitted.
The next day I found Adrian buoyant and optimistic, his pain and nausea controlled. He’d met Paul again and the news was good. If all went well Adrian could be coming home in a week’s time, his condition under control, discharged from the hospice, as more than 50 percent of the patients are.
Adrian was delighted with his lunch that day, a salmon steak with new potatoes, peas and butter. I found that for a minimal sum I too could have lunch there and so I did, every day, while we watched the news on his television, our life together continuing in a simple, domestic way that we could never have imagined possible. At night, if Adrian was restless, a nurse would sit and talk with him and Adrian would tell her about the Lake District, our favourite family holiday haunt.
After a while it became clear that Adrian would not be going home after all, that his condition was deteriorating, but his symptoms were so well controlled that we were still able to live our lives together day by day. I’ve wondered, since Adrian’s death, about the illusion of space and time that was part of that period we spent together in the hospice. One snowy day Adrian was visited by Prince Charles on his biennial Christmas visit. Inevitably, it would seem, they talked about painting, about the difficulty of placing the right mark, of recognising that elusive point when a picture must be left alone. Inevitably because Adrian was an artist, studying at Manchester when LS Lowry still walked the painting rooms there.
His illness had given him a new impetus to work. He had what I suppose might be called a simple but wide-reaching philosophy about his pictures. He had written in a catalogue for an exhibition, “Looking is the theme of these drawings and paintings – trying to learn to see; attempting to celebrate that there is no commonplace; seeking a significance in what may be passed by,” and during his illness he had made paintings that exemplified this; one was of Cleeve Hill with a covering of snow, an illusion of beauty, a metaphor for deception, because the snow had been mean and thin, melting, ice turning to slush that could send the unwary walker skidding, falling. There are pictures too of tulips, some exotically beautiful, lush, richly coloured but with their full blooms on the cusp of decay, or with open mouths turned with grace towards the observer, just the right side of sinister.
That Adrian should be terminally ill seemed unreal. He was strong, rarely unwell, looked much younger than the 72 that he was at the start of his illness when his hair was still mainly blond. He had strength and stamina beyond that of his friends, a quick mind and a dry wit. His original prognosis was three months but he very deliberately parked this idea and once the initial phase of tests and an operation was over, he embarked on life as he intended to live it, which was with a gentle but resolute purpose to live as fully and as long as possible. What we achieved, beyond any expectation that I had at the beginning, was almost two years of a rich life and, one evening in Leckhampton Court towards the end, Adrian told me that in the course of this illness he had fallen in love with me all over again, as I had with him.
In the May after Adrian’s death, I decided that I would like to mount an exhibition of Adrian’s work to help with fund raising for the hospice. I mentioned it to Paul Perkins who immediately offered me the hospice’s beautiful chapel as a space and so, in the autumn, it happened. Seventy-two pieces of Adrian’s work were collected from far afield and the whole exhibition was not so much a retrospective as a celebration. “A continuation, I suppose,” said his oncologist who had come to the exhibition, and so it was.
In the years since Adrian’s death Leckhampton Court has been a prop for me, a way to rebuild a life with purpose. It’s a place, for patients and their families, of generosity and love.
Carol Sandiford is organising the Art Affirming Life exhibition to raise funds for Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court. The show, to be held in October at Cheltenham College, will consist 5”x5” pictures submitted by artists, celebrities and other hospice supporters. To find out more call Carol on 01242 578109, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.artaffirminglife.org