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Remembering a Local Legend

The Whitaker family are celebrating the anniversary of John’s death this month. John Whitaker died comfortably in his home in April 2022, with support from his family, Golden Bay Community Health and Nelson Tasman Hospice.

John was a ‘very, very clever’ man. He could build anything from scratch. He was quiet but full of ideas and very helpful. Taking over Waitapu Engineering with his business partner in 1981, you can imagine that John had a hand in building a lot of the Takaka you see today; he helped to rebuild the dairy factory; the boat shed and the water scheme in Parapara; he put steel frames in many buildings; and was on the board for the Joan Whiting Rest Home, where he had a hand in the upkeep and maintenance for many years. He was well respected and active in the community, always offering his knack for making things work.

When John died, some in the Golden Bay community felt it was ‘the end of an era.’

In 2018, John was diagnosed with life-limiting bowel cancer. By 2022 the Whitaker family found they were relying on the expertise of the palliative care team, provided by Golden Bay Community Health (GBCH) as the lead provider, in collaboration with Nelson Tasman Hospice to help manage John’s death at home. Being at home meant a lot to the family and to John. It made it possible for the whole family to take part in the process; taking on his daily personal care; supporting him with his medication; and being as present as possible during that valuable time. It also meant John could run a steady diet of pavlova, rice pudding, cream and ice cream, and watch as many re-runs of Country Calendar as he could.

His son, Paul Whitaker spoke about the importance of having a hospice service close by, “Being around your family at times like that is really important, especially if someone is trying to earn a living. If the kids are trying to chip in to help Mum and Dad, but they still have to work, well they can do that if they know the service is available in Golden Bay. Along with trying to make sure Dad was as good as he could be, I got to see him and help him. That meant a lot to me.”

The process was made much easier by Nelson Tasman Hospice providing free specialist equipment in their home. For this time, the family utilised a shower stool, a hospital bed, a pressure care mattress, and a medicine syringe driver. Most of all, they found the expertise of the specialist palliative care team helpful when managing pain and medication.

Paul said, “Nelson Tasman Hospice’s Dr. Fleming was a real expert with medication, and it meant a lot that she was open and honest about the time we had left with Dad.”

Golden Bay Community Health and the district nurses there provided John’s ongoing care and were pivotal to the support of the Whitaker family. Paul said, “they provided a really personal and professional service. They helped us deal with some intense challenges, and it was great to have lovely people to support us through that time”.  District nurses in rural Nelson/Tasman areas are supported by the specialist interdisciplinary team at Nelson Tasman Hospice, providing clinical oversight, direct specialist care and professional development.

Paul talks about the importance of working on yourself, and “getting your head right” in the face of life’s challenges, “When I wake up in the morning, I throw all the stuff away that tries to climb on to my back, so I can come to work and try to have a good day.” From working on himself, he has become more aware of people around him, and how important it is to talk openly; “you don’t know what people are going through. I always ask them how they are going, and make sure I wait for their answer.”

Telling this story and supporting hospice by fundraising is all part of the process of talking openly. Paul told us, “It helps me to be able to help Hospice.”

About his experience with hospice and John’s death, Paul said, “That bit at the end, when I got to help dad, that really helped me. So much so that, of course, you’re sad and you have a cry about it, but it didn’t cripple me. What it was is that I didn’t shut it away. I thought about it daily and still do now so that it’s not a shock to the system. I think that helped. If you let the snowball run you over, you get flattened. “

Nelson Tasman Hospice is fundraising in Golden Bay to raise money for new equipment and to support the ongoing operation of Nelson Tasman Hospice, a charitable trust that relies on fundraising around $3.5 million each year. Sue, Paul and Alan Whitaker are helping kick off the fundraiser by donating $1,000 from TradeZone and Waitapu Engineering. They are also hosting a sausage sizzle on the 15th of April, in the park beside the Takaka Hospice Shop, and getting behind the collection with a donation box on the counter at TradeZone.

How you can donate:

– Pop into one of the following businesses to leave your donation in one of the donation boxes

NBS Takaka
Hammer Hardware
Tākaka Hospice Shop
Golden Bay Pharmacy
Tinky’s Tavern – Collingwood
The Pohara General Store
The Wholemeal Café
Molly B’s
Fresh Choice

– Donate online and reference “Golden Bay” when making your donation

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