As President of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, David Brown has more than one reason for asking his members to support the work of Marie Curie, the leading end of life care provider.
Mary, his wife of 30 years, has been working for Marie Curie as a community nurse for the past three years, visiting homes in the west of the Province providing end of life care for people with terminal illness.
And the County Fermanagh man, a long-time admirer of the caring service that Marie Curie provides throughout Northern Ireland, is as proud of her as she is of him and his role in representing farmers as they face challenging times ahead with rising energy bills and feed and fertiliser costs, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.
“Sometimes I will attend a funeral in the community and someone will come over to me to say hello and shake my hand and thank me for everything that Mary has done for their loved one as a Marie Curie Nurse and I haven’t even been aware that Mary had even been calling at that home,” said David.
“I never have a clue who she’s attending to. She is so discreet and so dedicated that she just gets up and goes out, doing great work and helping people and their relatives in their final days.”
David is the fifth-generation of his family to farm at his suckler beef and sheep farm in Florencecourt.
The day-to-day running of the farm has come second to the demands of his UFU presidency, which takes up much of his week from Monday to Saturday.
David admits he could not have taken his position representing over 11,500 farming families without the support of his own family – Mary, four grown-up children and one grandchild.
“When I stood for the position of Deputy President in 2018, I remember saying that my family did not get a vote but they certainly had a veto.
“Had they not been supportive, I certainly would not have let my name go forward.
“I’ve been essentially a part-time farmer since I took over as some of the jobs still wait for me on Saturday to do.”
His support of Marie Curie means that thousands of pounds have already been raised at various UFU events across Northern Ireland, with the big yellow collections buckets being generously handed out around members.
The couple are encouraging the farming community to turn out to support Marie Curie’s Twilight Walk, which takes place at Barnett Demesne in Belfast on Friday (September 30) from 7.30pm, or alternatively people can organise their own local walk to raise money.
Every £180 raised covers a night of care either in the community or at the Belfast hospice.
Mary works two nights a week, providing Marie Curie overnight visits to people’s homes or in Marie Curie’s Rapid Response service, which responses to calls for nursing assistance every night and all day at weekends and over bank holidays.
After 24 years of working in a local nursing home, Mary wanted a change of direction and a new challenge.
She began to work one night a week for Marie Curie while maintaining her nursing home job, but within six months she worked exclusively for Marie Curie.
“What I enjoy most is knowing that I have been a small part of the team within the community that has enabled the family to keep their loved one at home if that was their last wish,” explained Mary.
“It’s supporting family at a time when they are exhausted, they are so appreciative and trusting when they leave them in our care.
“Marie Curie is a charity that is highly regarded in the community, it’s something that I’m very aware of every time I put on my uniform.
“In Fermanagh and Omagh area, we have a great team of Marie Curie nurses and health care assistants who support each other.
“Confidentiality is very important to me as a nurse. If I am caring from someone from my local community who knows me, I usually try to find an opportunity to tell them that my family don’t actually know where I am overnight.
“I suppose firstly I am a Marie Curie nurse coming into their home, whether they know me or not does not affect the care I give.”
A typical night for Mary on Rapid Response starts runs from 10pm to 8am, based in Western Urgent Care (WUC) Enniskillen base within South West Acute Hospital.
Calls are triaged and allocated to Marie Curie if they involve palliative care issues such as symptom management, end of life care, catheter problems or care required after an expected death.
She explained further: “Our Rapid Response care help prevent unnecessary hospital admissions, ensuring that people are able to spend their final days in the place they want to be, whether it’s their own home or a residential care home.
“Also, if someone has a health care assistant with them overnight, we may be called out to give breakthrough medication.
“We cover a large geographical area, all of Fermanagh and part of Tyrone extending to Castlederg and Carrickmore areas. For these visits we are accompanied by a driver from WUC.
“At the weekend there are daytime shifts of 8am-4pm and 4pm-10pm. On these shifts, the community nursing team will often link in and request a visit to a patient of theirs also.”
It’s this dedication to the community that has most impressed David, long before Mary began to work for Marie Curie.
He said: “For rural communities in particular, the sense of vulnerability that families experience at that time when people are facing their last days exists, not just for the patient, but also for their families.
“There’s plenty of folk who live on their own and may not have family to visit them or have anyone close at hand.
“Marie Curie was there for a member of my wider family who died and it always struck me how good that service was.
“Generally, in the farming community there’s a real appreciation of that service when people are at the end of their days and need that support.
“I see so many tributes in death notices asking for donations to Marie Curie.
“The nurses may have only been with that family for a couple or three nights, or even one night but the significance of that help and support is very much etched on peoples’ collective memories, in that Marie Curie were there for them when they most needed them.”
To support Marie Curie’s Twilight Walk, visit www.mariecurie.org.uk/get-involved/charity-events/hiking/twilight-walk-northern-ireland for information how to register before the event.
The Twilight Walk gives people who have been bereaved a chance to come together to celebrate their lives with the lighting of a lantern at the end of the short walk.
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