West Belfast family on creating moments of comfort in devoted husband and dad's final days

Kieran Monaghan was a devoted husband and father, who embarked on his final journey at just 51 years old.

The West Belfast man was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2022 and sadly passed away almost a year ago in May 2023.

The dad-of-two had been to A&E several times with stomach-ache, but in-depth tests later revealed that he had stage 4 terminal cancer.

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Before his passing, Kieran spent time in the Northern Ireland Hospice, where the specialist Palliative Care Team greatly enriched his quality of life.

They provided Kieran and his family with special moments of comfort and joy by adding thoughtful touches like setting up a study table for his daughter ahead of her A-Levels and allowing visits from a dog-trainer with their furry companions.

Speaking ahead of the first anniversary of his death, his wife, Máire Thompson, shared their poignant story of how the NI Hospice was a beacon of light, ensuring Kieran’s passing was peaceful and dignified.

"We were in shock, but from day one Kieran was brave and pragmatic about the diagnosis, saying ‘it is what it is. He was a loving husband, thoughtful, kind, and considerate.

“He was such a great dad, so proud of our two children, Harry and Gabrielle,” she said.

Máire and Kieran in happier times
Máire and Kieran in happier times -Credit:Submitted

“We first met in our twenties. Kieran was always fun to be around – he was witty and mischievous. He had a zest for life, very outgoing but down to earth.

“He loved walking the dogs on Divis Mountain near where we live. He was even out with the dogs just days before he died on the mountain he loved so much.

“Kieran had a difficult time while in hospital, with sepsis, blood transfusions, chemo, and radiography, and he really didn’t want to go back there. So, in February 2023 he went to Hospice, just for a week at first, for pain management.

“Initially, we thought Hospice would be a gloom and doom place where people went to die. However, Kieran’s Hospice stays were much more positive, and it became an unexpected oasis of comfort amidst the storm.

“It was still a difficult time, but it would have been a hundred times worse without the support of Hospice.”

Kieran and Gabrielle with a Chinese during his Hospice stay
Kieran and Gabrielle with a Chinese during his Hospice stay -Credit:Submitted

Kieran went into Hospice again in late March for six weeks and Máire, principal of Hazelwood Integrated College, says the care team kept the family fully informed about what was happening.

She added: “This helped Kieran to accept that he was going to die. But he refused to just give up and he felt inspired by Harry and Gabrielle’s bravery.

“At Hospice we could come and go whenever it suited, as we were keen to try and keep things as normal as possible. It became a home-from-home for us.

“Gabrielle had her own study table set up in Hospice as she was completing her A-Levels, as well as being busy competing for Antrim Ladies GAA. Harry was running his own dog-training business, following in his father’s footsteps with his love of dogs.

Máire Thompson with her late husband Kieran Monaghan and their children, Harry and Gabrielle
Máire Thompson with her late husband Kieran Monaghan and their children, Harry and Gabrielle -Credit:Submitted

“The atmosphere in the Hospice’s IPU ward is so different to the hospital, so much more relaxed, a haven of warmth and compassion. We had pizzas delivered at all hours when we were visiting, and Hospice was very welcoming to Kieran’s many friends and family.

“His mummy also visited every day to still spoil her only son with fresh smelly pyjamas and fluffed towels. We have 12 dogs and Marlo the dachshund loved visiting. That really helped to lift Kieran’s spirits.

“Our consultant Dr Emma Lundy was so kind, with a great bedside manner. She made such a massive difference to us. She takes the time to build a relationship and really get to know people, including what they want from their care.

“In fact, the whole care staff were kind, funny and Kieran loved to see them all, from Ash in the auxiliary staff to Tana and Lynsey in the nursing team. They were good craic and we genuinely felt lucky to have secured a place in Hospice.”

Kieran and Harry with one of the family pets
Kieran and Harry with one of the family pets -Credit:Submitted

Máire added: “Hospice care is truly tailored to delivering a patient’s wishes. Kieran was very matter-of-fact about it all, including knowing that he really wanted to die at home on the mountain – ‘if you can get me home’, even despite all the complications.

“By the end, Kieran needed four syringe drivers for his pain, and it would have been easy for the doctors and Specialist Community Nursing Team to have insisted on keeping him in Hospice. But they made it happen, because they knew how important it was to him.

“Kieran died at home on May 17th 2023 so, at the end he was at peace, surrounded by the love of family and our twelve dogs. We don’t associate Hospice with trauma, as those last six weeks in Hospice were calm. It was a time of memories and acceptance, not angst.

“It gave Kieran quality of life in his last few weeks and we even had some moments of fun. We were very lucky to have Hospice’s depth and breadth of knowledge and to be able to receive this very specialist palliative care, which wouldn’t have been available if he had still been in hospital.

“We are so thankful to Hospice for Kieran’s care that we wanted to give something back and so far we have raised £16,000 for Hospice through a DIY Hospice Walk, so that other families like ours can continue to receive Hospice’s amazing care.

“Hospice certainly helped make it a less traumatic experience for us than it would have been otherwise, and we will be forever grateful for that.”

Help NI Hospice continue to create moments of comfort for people like Kieran and his family by making a much-needed donation at www.nihospice.org/SpringAppeal.

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