'I just want to die at home'

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 17/12/2013
Marie McKendry
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
SIMPLE DREAMS: Terminally ill Marie McKendry and hurband Bruce are unable to return home due to delayed repairs.

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A terminally-ill Christchurch grandmother desperately wants to die in her own home - but bureaucratic bungles have robbed her of her wish.

Marie McKendry and her husband of 54 years, Bruce, left their Hillmorton home in September so its damaged foundations could be repaired.

Last year, their insurer told the elderly couple they were a priority and authorities promised to have the home repaired by mid-December.

Consent wrangles and an "overcommitted" subcontractor have pushed the repair completion date out to April - and 76-year-old Marie does not know "if I have the strength in my body to hang on that long".

She was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year.

Due to her failing health, Marie has been staying in a rest home. She has always wanted to spend her final days in the home she lived in for more than 25 years.

"I don't want to go feet first out of here. This isn't where I expected to end my life."

The reality - that her health is rapidly deteriorating while the repairs to her home are delayed - clouds her mind every day.

"I just want to step inside the door before my illness takes me, before the end comes my way," she said.

Her message to the authorities was simple: "Please would you repair my house in time for me to put my live foot over the doorstep. It's not the same to put a dead foot there."

The couple's problems are not limited to Marie's predicament. Since September, Bruce, 79, has lived in a furnished rental property near Marie's rest home.

Their insurer, IAG, has been paying his $875 weekly rent, but his accommodation supplement is running dry.

If Bruce wants to stay in the rental until April he will have to re-mortgage his home, otherwise his only option is to move to Marlborough to stay with his daughter.

The former Air New Zealand administrator, who visits his wife every day, said the shift would be difficult for them both. Bruce met Marie when she was only 17. They have spent their lives together in Christchurch, raising four daughters.

"After being married for over 50 years, you don't want your partner to live their final days in a way that they don't want.

"I don't know if she will last to Easter. If I had the choice, I would give her what she wants and I would take her home."

The couple were told they were "on the urgent list" at the start of this year and they feel cheated.

"We do wonder, all of us, if they are playing for time with us and if there's money in it for somebody somewhere. It is unbelievable that it has taken this long," Marie said.

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IAG prioritised the couple after Marie suffered a heart attack in September last year.

Hawkins was appointed to repair the home and the job was sub-contracted to Buildtech, who initially said it would be finished by December 16.

Repair work started in September, but was delayed until November because of engineering and consent issues and a subcontractor, hired to lift the house, had "overcommitted", Buildtech director Israel Cooper said.

New estimates stretch the completion date out to at least March 31 and Buildtech was "doing everything humanly possible" to finish the repairs quickly, Cooper said.

Buildtech initially declined the family's plea to help with Bruce's $875 rent, but it has since agreed to pay six weeks' rent as a "one-off sign of good faith".

This six-week cover will carry Bruce through to late January - two months short of the estimated completion date.

An IAG spokeswoman said Bruce would have to pick up the remaining rent because the McKendrys had "exhausted" their policy entitlement for alternative accommodation.

IAG, Buildtech and Hawkins had been meeting "regularly" to discuss all possible options to support the couple, she said.

Buildtech would work through Christmas and was removing the existing foundation by hand to get the job finished "as soon as possible".

"We are all conscious of the severity of Mrs McKendry's illness and as such, have made the repair of her home, and the support of her family, a priority," Cooper said.

- The Press

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