“For us it was about quality of life for as long as we could keep him with us, and Hospice helped us with that.”
Meretaka shares her family’s palliative care journey.
Life as you know it can change in an instant. For Merv Houghton and his wife Meretaka that instant was two years ago when Merv was playing rugby league. His team noticed he wasn’t himself, falling over and fumbling the ball. Meretaka remembers that day saying “I told the manager he’ll be alright, just tell him to catch the ball”. A little later she watched him and realised something really wasn’t right. She says “we took him to the hospital and days later a Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis was made”. Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a degenerative condition resulting in progressive muscle wasting and weakness. “It was a huge shock for us – this is the healthiest man I know, and he’s going to stop eating, stop walking, stop breathing”.
Meretaka had some experience with Hospice but thought Hospice only came in to help at the end of someone’s life. This changed after a whānau hui where she’d “asked everyone who came to bring their ideas, any research they’d done on MND. One of our daughter-in-laws said Hospice isn’t just for end of life, they can be there for you for the whole entire journey.”
Merv and Meretaka were extremely active in their community. Meretaka worked as a community liaison and was part of several sports and community trusts. Merv was a bodybuilder and wrestler, working for 45 years before retiring, then caring for his whānau, children and Meretaka. Meretaka says “we work well as a team, we have a beautiful system and a beautiful marriage. Merv has inspired a lot of people”. Hospice has provided connection and community for Merv and Meretaka, especially as they have had to step back from the many community projects they’ve been involved with.
The goal for Merv and Meretaka in including Hospice into their journey was quality of life, for as long as possible “for us it’s about keeping him here as long as we could, and Hospice helped us with that.”
About the Hospice clinical team Meretaka says, “Going through this journey the nurses have always supported us. I would have been feeling so much grief and guilt without them saying to me “Mere, this is not your fault”. Merv’s made an amazing connection with all of the nurses so that anything he needed, they’re able to sit us down and just help us”.
“There have been different stages that Hospice has helped us with. The nurses were good at liaising with us and the hospital, and making sure I was ok. They are so loving and caring and helped us through some hard transitions.
For a long time I didn’t know there was funding available to support him. The support worker would contact us and make sure we were ok financially, that we had enough food and were doing ok. Hospice also provided equipment too, the air mattress helped keep Merv comfortable.”
A last wish was granted through Hospice’s connection with Race 4 Life, an organisation which helps people with a life limiting illnesses to realise dreams. Mere recalls, “Merv was a regular at Day Stay and met Race 4 Life there. Merv’s final wish was a recommitment of our vows because this year was our 10 year anniversary. He always said I was the twinkle in his eye. I think weddings are so beautiful and show that real love does exist, it’s alive and it’s beautiful.”
Their recommitment ceremony was held at a beautiful holiday home in Rotorua. Mere tells us as she was walking down the aisle she saw Merv and thought “He was so handsome, he looked shiny, glowing. I broke down as soon as I got to him. I could see that he was crying when he saw me coming down the aisle. There was a haka and I joined in to represent my husband and I. I can’t stop talking about it, it was beautiful.”
Merv died in early November 2021, surrounded by an abundance of love. “This whole MND journey has brought so much aroha and rangatiratanga with our children. They’ve stepped up a whole new level showing empathy and compassion. It’s humbled them and us because everyone has given their time and we’re all here as a whānau to support my darling and each other. I am such a proud mum, I’m a proud wife and I thank God every day for the blessings that He has given me.”