Care at St Helena Hospice is not just about those who die – but also those left behind

Cherie Smith, bereavement and psychosocial manager and safeguarding lead, at St Helena Hospice. Pict

Cherie Smith, bereavement and psychosocial manager and safeguarding lead, at St Helena Hospice. Picture: ST HELENA HOSPICE - Credit: Archant

As part of Hospice Care Week, we meet some of the people working at St Helena Hospice who support people in north Essex.

Preparing a child for the death of their parent is sensitive and emotional work – and there is a whole team dedicated to it at St Helena Hospice.

Cherie Smith, bereavement and psychosocial manager and safeguarding lead, and her incredible team work with people of all ages preparing patients and their families for death and supporting people who have been bereaved.

“We support families before a patient dies and we get to know the patient and their families. Ideally we like to get to know them and support them as early as possible,” says Cherie.

“Very often our work is taking the emphasis off the idea that an illness is going to get better, to that it isn’t.

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“As well as preparing children for a parental death we also work with the doctors, nurses and hospice team to prepare patients for their own death. Part of our role is helping people come to terms with their illness and approaching death.

“Some patients will never accept they won’t get better, but some patients will reach the stage of acceptance if they have been ill for a very long time.”

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One of the things the team does is help parents create a memory box for their children.

“It’s an incredibly painful thing to do as a parent, but it benefits children so much in their later life,” said Cherie.

“They can put in letters, photographs or really personal belongings that will really have a meaning for their children. It helps them retain the memory of their parent, that continuing bond, and it means an awful lot for that child as they grow up.”

Memory boxes are part of the STARS – Supporting Talking Adjusting and Remembering Someone Special – programme the hospice has been running for young families since 1993. The programme involves an outdoors family activity day followed by a monthly drop in.

“The STARS activity day is a fun day outdoors for families to meet other young families bereaved of a parent or a sibling with bush craft activities, such as building campfires and cooking outdoors,” explains Cherie.

Most of the families tell us they want to meet other families with children because they feel so isolated, so lonely, and they feel like they are the only ones who are going through this.

“After that day they’re invited to our STARBURSTS monthly drop in group where families talk about their bereavement experience in age specific groups. We help families talk about difficult feelings through creative activities such as ‘masks’, which are made out of mud rock. Very often adults and teenagers say they are feeling OK, but when we ask them to take their mask off and express how they ‘really’ feel because their husband, wife, mum or dad has died, they are really not OK.

“Inside the mask they’ll be lots of sadness, lots of tears, lots of anger and lots more. At STARBURSTS bereaved families feel reassured other families are feeling the same and other people understand too.”

Just over three years ago the hospice expanded its bereavement service to support people who have been bereaved through any cause of death, making it available to everyone.

“We support people that have been bereaved through the hospice, but also people who have been bereaved through sudden death including road traffic accidents, heart attack, suicide, neonatal deaths, children’s deaths, all sorts of traumatic deaths,” said Cherie.

“We’re starting to get a real influx of referrals to work with refugee children who have fled with their families from their country and need bereavement support. A lot of the work to provide this support comes through the photos that they’ve got on their cameras or mobile phones, and that’s very specialist work.

“Very often we will get one member of a family referred to us, such as a child who keeps crying at school because their mum or dad has died, but we know at the hospice that bereavement doesn’t just affect one member of the family, it affects everybody, so we will take a referral for the whole family and support the whole family.”

People can self-refer to the hospice or be referred by their GP or health or social care professional, through services such as Health In Mind and through schools.

• If you have been bereaved, you can contact the bereavement support team Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm on 01255 258240 for an informal conversation about the service to see if it is suitable for you. Visit the team’s website for details.

Live Q&A

This is the latest in a series of pieces we are running as part of Hospice Care Week.

The theme for 2017 is ‘We are hospice care’, which aims to highlight the people – often not in public view – who help keep hospices up and down the country running.

As part of our coverage of Hospice Care Week, tomorrow, Wednesday October 11, we will be holding a live Facebook Q&A video chat with St Helena Hospice chief executive Mark Jarman-Howe, about the hospice, the work it does, and plans for the future.

The event will begin at 2pm, and you can follow it at the East Anglian Daily Times’ Facebook page.

The video will also be available on our website afterwards, and the Q&A will be summarised in Thursday’s paper.

We want to put your questions to Mr Jarman-Howe so he can address the issues you are interested in.

To submit a question in advance, please email

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