Gerri third from left, pictured with her family at the hospice.
Bernard, or “Bunny” as he was known liked to get people together, he was a bit like a one-man Facebook, reuniting lost families and friends.
Bunny was one of 16 children, from a farming family in Jamaica. His dad owned 100 acres of land and a beautiful property. He loved jazz, reggae, Jimi Hendrix and Muhammad Ali. He liked to talk to everyone, and loved a party.
Bunny left Jamaica and came to England in 1960. The life of a farmer wasn’t for him and he wanted to see what was what in the world. He loved sewing and started working in the tailoring industry in Shoreditch.
He soon met his wife Selina a nurse who was known as “Cherry”. They married and had two young children. Just three months after her second child Gerri was born, Cherry was diagnosed with leukaemia and died when Gerri was 2 years old. Cherry was just 20 years old. Bunny’s heart was broken.
Gerri would walk along the road looking for her mum, she couldn’t quite comprehend that she had gone forever.
Bunny eventually remarried and Gerri went to study at the Chelsea School of Art and London College of Fashion. She started having some counselling to help her deal with her mum’s death as she was really struggling. She found it really helped, and art therapy was a real comfort and helped her cope.
After college, Gerri started putting her artistic talents to good use and set up a business making made-to-measure clothing and built a career making and selling bridal wear. She now has two children of her own who adored their grandad.
Last November, Bunny started getting pains in his stomach and was losing a lot of weight really quickly. He had blood tests and was told that he had advanced stomach cancer. It was terminal but he had treatment options available to him. He decided he didn’t want some of those treatments though because they gave him nightmares but the pain was too hard to bear and he was referred to St Joseph’s Hospice for support.
At first he didn’t want to come to the hospice. He felt as though it was giving up, but he agreed to spend a couple of days on the wards and the clinicians were able to manage his pain. He started to get back to his old self, laughing and joking, but he was eating less. Gerri remembers that one of the nurses came in one day and asked how he was doing; He replied “How do you think I’m doing?” The old Bunny was back!
During Bunny’s final weeks he spent less time awake, but Gerri and the family didn’t leave his side, staying over in the visitors room so he was never alone. Gerri would tell him he was staying in a five star hotel as the nurses and staff exceeded all their expectations.
Two days before Bunny died, Gerri knew that it was nearing the end. Because the nurses were caring for Bunny, the family could just focus on being with him and enjoy his final days. That meant the world to them.
To say goodbye the family decided to have one last party in Bunny’s room, with lots of visitors and funny moments. And amazingly, just before he died Bunny opened his eyes and gazed at his family, taking them all in one last time.
Gerri told us: “When the time came and dad could no longer speak words, his eyes became his words instead of his mouth. His eyes said, to all my children I have no regrets and I am very proud. You must be here for each other and for those all around, as my passion and duty was reuniting family that was lost and found.”
“In the final weeks of Bunny’s life, St Joseph's Hospice became his home. And amazingly, people here and the wonderful services they offer, allowed his family and friends to savour precious time with him. St Joseph's Hospice will forever be in our hearts and we are eternally grateful.”
Even in the last hours of his life Bunny managed to do one or two last works. He reunited the family with their cousin Marcia who happened to be working at the hospice. Marcia’s mother looked after Gerri and her brother when their mum was dying of cancer.
Gerri has donated some of her art to the hospice, for patients to enjoy and to help raise money for St Joseph’s. The family have also set up a fundraising page in Bunny’s memory with the money being donated to St Joseph’s and his church.
Many people like to raise money for St Joseph’s in memory of someone in their family or a friend who has been looked after by the hospice. If you would like to make a donation to St Joseph’s, call the Fundraising Team on 020 8525 3200. You can also donate online or Text WECARE to 70660 to donate £5 to St Joseph's Hospice.