"I will never forget the moment that we walked through the door of the hospice with Dad. He had been in Yeovil hospital, and said that he didn’t want to be admitted to a hospice. I think for him, as for so many in his position, it felt like conceding defeat. It was as if he didn’t want to admit that his cancer was going to win. He didn’t want to give up.

Within minutes of arriving at the hospice, Dad’s concerns were eased. He soon noticed that it doesn’t feel like a clinical environment at all. Of course, it has all the equipment needed to offer first-rate end-of-life care, but the overall atmosphere is very different from a hospital. It feels homely, welcoming and restful. It is a place of calm and tranquillity. A place where you and your family know you will be nurtured and cared for.

That is certainly how we felt about the hospice over the subsequent weeks. Dad passed away on 21 January, and the period in between was characterised by intensity, sorrow and a profound feeling of love.

Love from my daughters Elise and Holly, who enjoyed an especially close relationship with their granddad. Love from the doctors, nurses and volunteers who give so much of themselves for patients and their families. And love between Dad and me; a love that grew in meaning as he neared the end of his life, and which will remain in my heart forever.

A place to call home 

Although it was undeniably a difficult time, I remember some highlights. They bring a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.

One of them is the sight of Doctor Derek, who always had time and a kind word to share with all of us. Another is Lorraine, one of the nurses who cared for my Dad. She sat on his bed and compared photos of grandchildren as she made sure he was comfortable and had everything he needed.

I also remember Patrick the hospice cat sneaking in and out of the corridors, bringing warmth and cheer with his quiet, unassuming presence.

Most of all, I remember how grateful we were to be able to treat the hospice like an extension of our home. We were given access to the Sunflower Suite, a flat in the hospice grounds that families can use as a base when their loved ones are in residence. This gave us the much-valued space simply to be as a family – completing jigsaws, sharing memories, and finding comfort in each other’s company.

Time to say goodbye

The greatest gift we received last Christmas was the chance to be with Dad in his final days. I will always be grateful to St. Margaret’s for that.

Thanks to St. Margaret’s, I had the chance to say a proper goodbye to my dad. To be with him as his breath shortened and his limbs grew weak. To sit alongside him and tell him that everything would be OK, because he was loved, and will always be a part of our lives.

This Christmas, I know there will be other families going through just what we went through last year. It's because of the support of the community we were able to make each day count for dad in those last few weeks. If you feel able to make a donation to St. Margaret's, you’ll make a real difference to people’s lives. You’ll ensure that the most difficult time of all is made more bearable, more human, thanks to the wonderful work of everyone at St Margaret’s.

It is probably the greatest gift you can give this Christmas. I know I won’t be the only person to feel more grateful for your generosity than words can say."