Daughter praises Ashgate Hospice care of 'soulmates' of 52 years who died side by side days apart

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A couple married for 52 years died side by side just days apart after their final wish was granted.

Lynne and Chris Johnson, who lived in Bolsover, were holding hands until the very end at Ashgate Hospice before Lynne died first, aged 69. She had been diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumour less than two months before.

Chris died eight days later in the hospice at the age of 76, four months after he was diagnosed with bowel and secondary liver cancer.

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Their daughter, Julie Whittaker, said that the hospice’s care ensured that her parents stayed together until the end.

Julie Whittaker with a photo of her parents Lynne and Chris Johnson who died just days apart in Ashgate Hospice in February 2024 (photo: Ellie Rhodes)Julie Whittaker with a photo of her parents Lynne and Chris Johnson who died just days apart in Ashgate Hospice in February 2024 (photo: Ellie Rhodes)
Julie Whittaker with a photo of her parents Lynne and Chris Johnson who died just days apart in Ashgate Hospice in February 2024 (photo: Ellie Rhodes)

Five months after her parents’ passing, Julie said: “Dad was there for Mum’s last breath. He was holding her hand, and he took so much comfort in that.

“When Mum died it took him a few days to come to terms with it. On the Saturday he burst into tears and said: ‘Has Lynne really gone?’

“Then that was it, he didn’t eat or drink again. He was completely heartbroken that Mum had died and just gave up. I don’t think he would have died that day if Mum was still alive.

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“The ultimate goal was ensuring they were together until the end, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Ashgate.”

Julie Whittaker with her parents Lynne and Chris Johnson.Julie Whittaker with her parents Lynne and Chris Johnson.
Julie Whittaker with her parents Lynne and Chris Johnson.

Julie described her parents as soulmates. They first met when Chris was working as a milkman and his round took him to Clay Cross where he met Lynne who lived there. Chris and Lynne started dating and their romance blossomed before they tied the knot on June 3 1972. They went on to have a son Garry in 1972 and Julie a year later.

The couple lived in the same house together for 47 years, with Lynne going on to work as a carer before she retired, while Chris was a bus driver.

Julie said: "Other than when they were at work they were never apart; they were proper soulmates. They did everything together.

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"Even to this day, it doesn’t feel real. It’s not been long since they passed away – how have they just gone?

Lynne and Chris Johnson of Bolsover were soulmates for 52 years.Lynne and Chris Johnson of Bolsover were soulmates for 52 years.
Lynne and Chris Johnson of Bolsover were soulmates for 52 years.

"It was a such a whirlwind, everything happened so quickly. I’m just so grateful that Ashgate was able to keep them together.”

Before being admitted to the hospice for inpatient care, Chris and Lynne received support from Ashgate’s Virtual Ward team – a new service that provides safe and convenient palliative and end of life care at home.

But despite the care the family received, Julie said it “became too much to control their pain” and was clear that her parents needed round the clock care.

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They were placed on a waiting list for two adjacent beds at the hospice, and the following day, they received a call to say a private room was available for them both.

Lynne and Chris Johnson on their wedding day on June 3, 1972.Lynne and Chris Johnson on their wedding day on June 3, 1972.
Lynne and Chris Johnson on their wedding day on June 3, 1972.

“The care was just phenomenal,” added Julie. “Not just for Mum and Dad but for all of us, the hospice was with us from the start and are still there for us now.

“If both couldn’t be cared for at the hospice, it would have been so heartbreaking for us choosing who we were going to be with. Having them together gave our family so much more time with them both.

“Dad’s brother Alwyn came every day to visit with my Mum and Dad’s dog Tess – Alwyn and Tess were there when Dad died which was special for him.

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“The hospice is such an amazing place and we were so well looked after. It’s all about the little things, they think of everything and will go above and beyond to help patients, families and visitors."

Each year Ashgate Hospice must raise £11 million to continue to deliver crucial palliative and end of life care and support, despite only 31% of its income coming from local NHS budgets.

Hundreds of people are unable to access the hospice’s care across the region every year due to inadequate funding, but Julie wants more families to receive the care she did.

Julie Whittaker has praised the care that Ashgate Hospice gave her parents Lynne and Chris Johnson who were side by side until the very end.Julie Whittaker has praised the care that Ashgate Hospice gave her parents Lynne and Chris Johnson who were side by side until the very end.
Julie Whittaker has praised the care that Ashgate Hospice gave her parents Lynne and Chris Johnson who were side by side until the very end.

She added: “Not only do all people deserve the end of life care that my parents received, but when patients are in a hospice instead of a hospital it takes the strain off the NHS.

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“Nothing is too much trouble for staff at the hospice; there is so much love and compassion. I just wish that more families could be as well looked after as we were.”

Find out more about Ashgate Hospice’s services on the charity’s website or by calling 01246 568801.

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