“They really put George’s needs at the heart of all they did."

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“They really put George’s needs at the heart of all they did."

George and Mele Penfound

It was early January 2023 when Mele Penfound, sat by the bedside of her husband, George, who was in the final stages of lung cancer. They had been married for almost 47 years, and this moment, as tough as it was, was one of the closest they had ever been.

For the past five years, they had been fighting against the disease, and they had experienced every level of support that modern medicine had to offer. Varying rounds of treatment, however, did not stop George and Mele from continuing to live a full life together and in the service to others. From holidays abroad, trips to the coast, meticulously maintaining their gardens and large backyard, to leading an international students’ choir in Canberra, the couple were always finding ways to build community.

“We first met in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1976, when we were introduced by my brother-in-law,” said Mele. “Every second weekend George would hop on a plane to come and see me in Auckland.”

It wasn’t just George’s upbringing in England and South Africa, or the fact that he held a private pilot’s licence, that fascinated Mele.

“He was a man of strength of character, integrity and determination. For example, in his late teens, George rode his motorbike, alone, 8,750 kilometres from Welkom in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt. In the 1960s, this was no mean feat.”

George’s ability to fight through his treatment, with a smile on his face is testament to his love for his wife and family.

When George was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the doctors informed the family, including their daughter Elizabeth, that there wasn't much more they could do. The couple was left devastated, but not without hope.

While it felt like the world had stopped turning, the palliative care support they received at home, and the Christian faith they held kept them going.

“At first, George’s cancer doctor suggested he receive palliative care at Clare Holland House in Canberra, but we didn’t want that. I wanted to honour his wishes and keep my darling husband at our home, and look after him until his last breath,” said Mele.

After meeting with the palliative care team from Clare Holland House, Mele felt a sense of relief. She was able to receive invaluable in-home support to help with the day-to-day management of his medical care.

“They really put George’s needs at the heart of all they did, and were just so kind and helpful. It was like a weight was lifted off our shoulders,” said Mele.

As her husband's health declined, the team provided additional support to ensure that he was comfortable and that Mele was coping.

"They went above and beyond what we could have ever expected," said Mele, sharing how the palliative care team would walk in and put a smile on their faces.

The palliative care team's support went beyond just George. They empowered Mele to be an active participant in his care. They were always available to provide guidance and solutions to any issues that arose, giving her a sense of control during a time where it felt like everything was slipping away.

Receiving care in the comfort of their own home environment gave the family a sense of peace. Mele spent hours holding his hand as they reflected on their memories and discussed their love for family and friends.

In the end, George’s health declined, and he died peacefully on 18 January 2023, his love of 46 years beside him.

“His last words were, ‘I love you!’,” said Mele. “He asked me to keep on singing with the international students’ singing group and to be happy.”

His battle with cancer had been excruciating, but the love and support around him from Mele, his family, friends, and the palliative care team made a world of difference.

For Mele, the care provided by the palliative care team was life-changing.

"The care provided by the palliative care team was amazing. They listened to us and helped us to make the most of the time we had left together, which was so important. I can't thank them enough."

And while the loss of her husband was devastating, Mele hasn’t felt alone. The palliative care team continued to offer support after George’s death, and she continues to have friends and family checking in on her as she navigates the empty space left by her ‘humble but remarkable husband’.

Rest in peace George.

Start exploring PCA's advice, tools and support with 'matters of life and death' HERE.