Widow's plea to help 'wonderful' hospice

JUST one year ago, Jennifer Howells had everything she wanted.Her loving husband, Mark, was a successful musician with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the couple had two beautiful young children.

JUST one year ago, Jennifer Howells had everything she wanted.

Her loving husband, Mark, was a successful musician with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the couple had two beautiful young children.

Then, on Christmas Eve, her world was turned upside down and she knew the life she had once taken for granted would never be the same again.

A brain biopsy revealed Mr Howells had a rare and aggressive cancer, leaving him with only weeks to live. He was just 49 years old.

Now Mrs Howells has decided to tell her heartbreaking story in a bid to raise money for a Suffolk hospice that helped her husband live out his days in dignity, care and warmth.

"My children, Christopher, seven, and Catherine, three, found visiting their father in the neurological ward in Addenbrooke's Hospital very distressing, and Mark felt the nursing staff needed to concentrate on patients they knew they could treat, rather than someone they could no longer help," said Mrs Howells, 46, from Moulton, near Newmarket.

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"So we jumped at the chance of Mark being moved to St Nicholas Hospice, in Bury St Edmunds.

"As soon as we walked in we felt the warmth in the atmosphere. Mark was put into a lovely room overlooking the beautiful garden. The nurses were so kind and could not do enough to make sure Mark was comfortable and pain free, and to ensure I was coping with the situation. The chefs were marvellous in cooking whatever Mark wanted to eat, and he told me that their wonderful food was one of the few things he had left in life to look forward to."

As well as looking after Mr Howells, staff at the hospice made sure the rest of the family got the support they needed, from assisting Mrs Howells to fill out forms, to helping the children try and come to terms with what was happening.

Mr Howells died on February 13, just six weeks after being told he had cancer.

"I was with Mark when he took his final breath, and I will never forget the compassion and care shown to me by the wonderful nurse who was in the room with us, and who helped me get through the appalling experience," said Mrs Howells.

"Even now, the hospice is still helping us, through the family support team's counselling service.

"Christopher will be attending their bereavement course for children called "Nicky's Way" this autumn, and I am sure this will help him with his grief.

"He has just been accepted to as a chorister at King's College, in Cambridge, and it is such a shame Mark isn't here to see it because he would have been so proud of his son."

To provide services to people like Mr Howells and his family, St Nicholas Hospice needs to raise £6,000 every day from voluntary income, in order to meet its annual costs of £3,200,000.

Although there is some funding available from an NHS annual grant, in the year 2003/2004 it amounted to just 28% of the yearly running costs. Money is also raised from the St Nicholas Hospice lottery and the seven hospice shops, based in Bury, Sudbury, Thetford, Mildenhall, Newmarket, Haverhill and Brandon.

On October 8, musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra are giving up their time to play for free at a Grand Gala Concert, being held in memory of Mr Howells at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury.

Tickets range from £42 to just £12, and it is hoped the event will go some way to raising the vital funds needed to keep the hospice running.

Mrs Howells added: "I am so grateful for all they have done for us. My experience has shown me just how important hospices are. Mark was a fit and healthy man which shows any one of us might need a hospice at any time, so is vital that we should support them with donations and events like this concert, from which they can benefit."

For more information on the concert, contact the fundraising office on 01284 715555.

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