Malcolm Bianchi was admitted to Mercy Hospice with stage 4 lung cancer. Surrounded by his loving family, Malcolm died within 36 hours. Looking back at this special time and the three months of community support they received, Malcolm’s wife Denise Bianchi shares how her family’s experience of care was something she will always be grateful for.
Originally from Dagenham and Manor Park, East London, Malcolm and Denise moved to Auckland in 1987 with daughters Gina, Emma, and Leanne. Their two eldest daughters moved back to the UK in 1996 and 1998, and this led to a tradition of annual return visits. During these trips, Malcolm relished connecting with friends at a pub local to where one of his daughters lived, the Aspen Tree.
“His relationship grew with that community over the years. Whatever we did there was usually a pub involved, and the Aspen Tree was a very important part of his life whilst visiting his two eldest daughters, family and friends in the UK.”
“He’d go in and give them some New Zealand mussels. He was very generous like that, and they’d sit and put the world to rights in the afternoons, as English people do. His relationship grew with that community over the years. Whatever we did there was usually a pub involved, and the Aspen Tree was a very important part of his life whilst visiting his two eldest daughters, family and friends in the UK.”
So deep was Malcom’s connection with the Aspen Tree community, that on hearing about his death, Andy, his father Bert, Martin and a host of other friends from the Aspen Tree promptly sold over £200 worth (NZ$500) of raffle tickets. The sale of which provided Denise and the Aspen Tree community with a way to express their collective gratitude to Mercy Hospice.
This enabled Denise to bring together two hemispheres of care that wrapped themselves so lovingly around Malcolm.
Throughout Malcolm’s home support from the Community Palliative Care team to being cared for in the Inpatient Unit at 61 College Hill on June 7th, 2022, Denise was blown away by the way staff engaged with them.
“Reagan (Clinical Nurse Specialist) was phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. The family enveloped her as part of ours. We could not have asked for better care whilst Malcolm was at home. She was bright and bubbly and Malcolm loved her Dr Marten’s Boots, but it was the compassion she had, not just for Malcolm but the whole family that made what she did so unbelievable. We would also like to thank Karen who was equally as amazing in her care and support of Malcolm and our family.”
“We were desperate to keep him with us at home. Caring for Malcolm took its toll on us all physically and emotionally. We knew the time had come and when a decision needed to be made she knelt down by the side of the bed on the Tuesday and said, ‘Malcolm, what do you want?. Malcolm lay there and said ‘I just want to be somewhere I don’t feel so poorly’. And that was it, we said, right let’s make the arrangements (to move to hospice). After that he just looked so relaxed. He looked like the weight of the world had been taken off his shoulders.”
“I couldn’t have got through any of it without the support of the hospice.”
“We really couldn’t have asked for better care at Mercy. My family have connections with the Tongan community, the Filipino community, the Samoan community, any community where there’s a church, all these prayers were being said. Malcolm wasn’t a religious man, but he said ‘Look, I’ll take whatever’s going’. He knew his time was limited. We just didn’t realise how little time he had. He loved that people were thinking of him at this time, and that they were thinking of me and the girls. I couldn’t have got through any of it without the support of the hospice.”
During our chat with Denise, she shared her thoughts about death, which for many people can be a difficult subject to talk about, especially if your family of origin and culture has pulled you away from having such conversations. Fortunately for Malcolm’s family however, talking about such things came very naturally.
“We’ve always talked about life and death as a family. It’s never been a taboo subject. I know some people find it hard. But we’ve always been very open.
I lost four people that were extremely close to me within a seven-week period a couple of years before I lost Malcolm, one of which was my mum. I was also the last person to see my friend, Maureen alive. Death happens to everyone, it doesn’t frighten me but that doesn’t make it any less sad.
Even now, the girls know exactly what I want even though they may not necessarily agree. They know how I feel. At one point Malcolm said he wanted his ashes to be buried with his mum in Newcastle in the UK, so we’ve agreed that’s what we will do. Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m going up in a firework! So that every time someone sees a firework, they’ll think of me!”
In addition to her gratitude for the immense compassion they felt at Mercy, Denise also wanted to acknowledge the role that relationship and connection played between Malcolm and the staff the family got to know so well. And in particular, the value the family experienced around hearing regional accents.
“I do want to mention Jan, one of the nurses at Mercy. She’s a lovely Geordie lady (from Newcastle in the UK). Malcolm’s parents were from Newcastle, Jan took Malcolm and settled him in, she gave him a lovely massage with essential oils to help him relax. She sounded just like his mum. And then there was Michael, the night nurse. He was a tall Welsh guy. And Malcom’s best mates in New Zealand and in the UK are both Welsh! Michael sounded just like them too.”
They were two accents that were perfect for Malcolm. It was like he was with the people he needed to be with. Their accents gave him comfort.
“Jan said this was the stars aligning, which helped him to settle. They were two accents that were perfect for Malcolm. It was like he was with the people he needed to be with. Their accents gave him comfort, he heard these accents, and he trusted them. Michael was phenomenal. He said I’m just going to pop out and get him something. And when he came back, I said Malcolm’s gone. It was just so quick. But you know, it was the compassion, real genuine compassion that Michael showed”.
When Malcolm finally passed away on 9 June it was the end of a long journey. Denise recalls with much fondness what she experienced when it was time to leave the hospice.
It was love for somebody from many people we didn’t really know but it was given so beautifully and genuinely. There was no urgency, everything was calm.
“One of the biggest things was when all the staff and nurses sang a Waiata when the funeral home came to collect him. I’ve never seen anything like that. Somehow or another it had been recorded, so I have it on my phone and I showed my sister in the UK and she just fell apart. She said, ‘how amazing is that!’ It’s like they were giving him permission. It wasn’t like he just left in a hearse. It was like the hospice was saying to him it’s ok for you to go and move on. It’s hard to describe. It was almost like a rite of passage, and it just seemed right. It was love for somebody from many people we didn’t really know but it was given so beautifully and genuinely. There was no urgency, everything was calm. Everyone who cared for Malcolm got to know him and we got to know them”.
Life after the death of a loved one can often feel strange and daunting. This was no different for Denise, who shared:
“The hardest thing is not having anyone to hug and kiss goodnight. That’s the hardest thing and you can’t explain it to anybody unless they’re in a loving relationship. But at the same time, the best thing is I still feel connected to Malcolm. He’s here and always will be. I told him about his old chair the other day, the one that has springs sticking out and poking you. I said I’m getting rid of your old chair. I’m sorry I said, and I swear the house shook! And when the cyclone was coming, I said look I’m really scared, so I brought him close to me. And afterwards I just thanked him for helping me get through it.”
Thank you Denise for sharing your story. This year will be 36 years living in New Zealand and is also Denise and Malcolm’s 50th wedding anniversary. Congratulations. Sending much love to you and your family as you remember and celebrate the connections you have made both here and in the UK.
Share this Mercy Story
Do you have a Mercy story you would like to share with readers of Mercy Matters?
Send your story and images to [email protected].
If you enjoyed reading this, then please explore our other articles below: