1 July, 2021

Jon Markey from Torbay is being recognised for five years of service at the Harbour Hospice Hibiscus Coast Long Service Awards

After 39 years of marriage Jon Markey and his late wife Margaret knew each other well. So, when, one night, Margaret began slurring her words while the couple watched TV together in their matching armchairs, Jon knew something was wrong.

“I said, ‘Have you been on the sherry?” he says. But he knew she hadn’t. The couple followed up with a doctor’s appointment. Margaret was misdiagnosed with oral thrush and when the slurring continued, they sought a second opinion. She was referred to a neurologist and soon after diagnosed with motor neurone disease. ;

Jon Margagret Markey volunteer blog

Jon with his late wife Margaret.

“It’s an awful illness,” Jon says. “Because bit by bit your body just sort of dies.” Margaret’s condition was complicated by the fact she was asthmatic, and just four months after her diagnosis, Margaret died.

Her final days were spent at the Hibiscus House Inpatient Unit and now Jon, a retired court clerk who once served in the navy, takes great comfort in volunteering there. “I sit with the patients and bring them cups of tea, or make beds and help the nurses - whatever is needed. I’ve been told some great stories by the patients over the years and I really like talking to them.”

Sometimes, if the room that Margaret was in is empty, Jon steps inside and stands there in the quiet.

“Straight after she died I had to leave that room to tell some visitors. I walked past the nurses station and they were all standing in a circle hugging. That moved me more than anything else because it really showed me that they cared.”

Volunteering at the IPU allows Jon to feel like he’s giving something back to Harbour Hospice, but it also helps him feel connected to Margaret, who was an enthusiastic volunteer herself. Margaret was a prolific knitter and knitted hundreds upon hundreds of peggy squares to make blankets, which would be sent on to orphanages in the Ukraine. “Our house was always piled high with blankets,” Jon recalls. “And we were once shown a video of the orphans lining up to receive them. It had us both in tears.”

Jon, who has since remarried, also volunteers at the Whangaparaoa hospice shop and he’s a community visitor for a patient living in Kaukapakapa.

“It gets me out of the house and I’ve met so many interesting people. Apparently I’m a source of inspiration to the women in my walking group. They all tell their husbands to get off their backsides and volunteer like Jon,” he chuckles. “Well, it’s a good thing to do.”