Sixty years they had been married.
Sixty years, a lifetime together, all those moments and memories, the kids and grandkids, and an unknowable closeness that comes only with deepest and longest of friendships.
In February of this year Peter and Judith Robbins celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
They were pillars of their family, known and loved throughout the community for their charitable work – they’d achieved so much, been through so much, together.
And now, just a few weeks after that anniversary, Judith sat beside her husband during the final moments of his life – he on the hospital bed, and she on a plastic chair beside him, her arms wrapped around him as best she could.
“I just wanted to lie next to him,” Judith told BRHS this week. “I wanted to hold him.”
Peter and Judith spent just a few days in the palliative care ward at Bairnsdale hospital, before Peter passed away, on March 21.
“He’d said he’d be going home. We all thought we’d be taking him home.”
Peter Robbins was 83.
For those who have been through a moment like this – beside a loved one in palliative care – it is a time of incredible anguish, and also intimacy.
For Judith, not being able to be physically closer to the man she loved so dearly, during such an important time, was another heartbreak in a time of many.
Never one to let a problem go unchallenged, Judith and her family set about seeing whether there wasn’t a better way.
“I got home and just starting googling ‘palliative care beds’ or something like that,” said James Blandford, Judith’s grandson. “We didn’t really know what we were looking for at first, and then we found out about these ‘cuddle beds.’”
Judith and James stumbled upon an article online about Robina Hospital on the Gold Coast, that had purchased a “cuddle bed” – essentially a much wider bed, with specialised hospital functions – that allowed the family of a palliative patient to comfortably lie next to their loved one.
“I called Robina right away,” Judith said. “They were happy to tell me all about the cuddle bed. From there we started learning all about them.”
And, they set their collective energy on providing a cuddle bed for families here in East Gippsland.
“We wanted other families to have the benefit of a bed like this, to help make their end of life experience just that little bit more comfortable,” James said.
But, at upwards of $18,000 per bed, it was always going to be a big ask.
So James turned to the community, launching a Go Fund Me campaign at the end of March.
“My grandparents had spent so much of their life helping other people,” James said.
For more than 30 years Peter and Judith ran Annie’s Cottage, a property in Lindenow South, for families of children with life-threatening illnesses to enjoy a holiday. In 2015 they were awarded an Order of Australia Medal for their charitable work.
“This cuddle bed campaign was one way of giving back to Nan and Pa, who have given so much time helping families.”
The campaign struck a chord. More than 140 donors raised $25,045, with one donor contributing $5,000.
“We are saddened to have learned of your grandfather’s passing,” wrote one contributor. “What a wonderful legacy this initiative will be in Peter Robbin’s memory.”
“Peter was a true gentleman and was a pleasure to know,” wrote another.
And, “We have all faced this with our loved ones and can only hope that an opportunity is available for us when the time comes.”
Though a global pandemic made shipping the bed from the USA a challenge, BRHS was very pleased to finally take receipt of the cuddle bed this month and put it into immediate use on the Rotamah Ward, where we care for palliative patients.
“It’s a truly generous and thoughtful gift,” said Lisa Hodge, Nurse Unit Manager on Rotamah Ward. “I know this cuddle bed will make a real difference in allowing loved ones to be closer together in those final moments.”
A few days ago, Judith and James paid a visit to the hospital to finally lay eyes on the piece of equipment they, and all the community donors, had worked so hard to bring to Bairnsdale.
As they sat on the bed, running their hands gently across the bed spread, lost in thought, you could see they were reliving the painful moments of the last time they had been here.
But now, the pain was flecked with some solace of joy, and gratitude.
“This is all in memory of him,” Judith said. “It’s a gift in his memory to other families in the future that find themselves here.”