Taff Cheeseman is on a mission to equip Nova Scotia hospitals with cuddle beds in honour of her late husband.
After a long, hard-fought battle with cancer, Cheeseman’s husband of 25 years, Rick Cheeseman, died at the South Shore Regional Hospital in August at the age of 48. He was a father of three, a paramedic dedicated to his community of Bridgewater, N.S., and a lover of hugs.
“If I could put Rick into a — something that really means Rick — it was the cuddles, the hugs. He was probably the biggest hugger you’d ever meet,” Taff tells Global News.
That made his hospital stay that much more difficult, as Taff says she struggled to get close to him.
“I used to just push the chair over next to his bed and I’d sort of half crawl in, but not really crawl in, and just hold his hand. I did that for the first 10 days, I guess it was, just holding his hand and, I stayed like that basically the 24 hours a day because I didn’t want him to feel like he was alone,” says Taff.
“I can remember complaining one night about wanting to be able to crawl into bed and I wish we had a bigger bed.”
That’s when a nurse thought to bring in a bariatric bed, typically used for larger patients, so the two could cuddle — a moment captured on camera.
“When I was actually able to feel his arms around me and be able to put my arms around him, I’ll never be able to replicate that moment. I’ll never be able to explain it fully, because it meant more than anything else in this world.”
While the bariatric bed did the trick, Taff says it wasn’t the most comfortable, so she went in search of a better solution.
“I found this palliative cuddle bed, it was called, and I can remember thinking then and there, ‘I’m going to make sure this hospital has one of these beds, because I don’t want anybody else to ever feel the way that I felt when I was in there,'” says Taff.
She then went to work planning a year’s worth of monthly fundraisers, through a campaign aptly called Cuddles From Rick, to raise the $22,050 needed to purchase the bed. She partnered with the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore, which posted the photo and Taff’s story on its Facebook page. It was shared more than 1,000 times, and in less than two weeks, Taff had reached her goal.
“The amount of support we got from the community was absolutely outstanding,” says Taff.
“I’m still actually kind of in disbelief, because I really thought that I was going to have this year to do it.”
Alison Clements, a development officer with the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore, says the community support was “unbelievable.”
“This was a whirlwind of philanthropy and kindness and generosity. I think people really clicked with Taff’s story, the proof of Taff and Rick’s love was so apparent in that photo that went viral — or South Shore viral, if you will — that I think it really tugged at people’s heartstrings,” says Clements.
“We know that one day we’re all going to be in a position to lose a loved one, and wouldn’t it be nice to have this palliative care bed in place so that you can share those final touches and cuddles with your loved one?”
Clements says this new bed will go a long way in providing comfort for patients nearing end of life and their loved ones, something Taff experienced firsthand.
“I know it was him that was going through it, but mentally, it took a lot on me,” says Taff, fighting back tears. “But just feeling his arms around me and saying things are going to be OK, it helped.”
That is the driving force for Taff, who now hopes to go bigger with her Cuddles From Rick fundraiser. She says she wants to create that lasting experience for others across the province going through a similar situation.
“I feel like I achieved what I set out to achieve in the sense that we raised the money for the South Shore hospital, but I feel like there’s a lot more that I could be doing, because I don’t feel done.”