In September 2013 Jim was admitted to the Hospice after being referred from Northampton General Hospital with a cancer diagnosis. As a father of two young children, it was recommended that Jim and his wife, Justine spend time speaking to Claire, our Palliative Care Family Worker, who advised them on the best way to speak to their son, Jaden who was 13 and daughter, Jess who was eight, about their Dad’s illness.
Justine recalls: “The situation was very daunting and emotional for us all when Jim was referred to Cynthia Spencer. The future was uncertain, he had been given only two months to live so we knew we didn’t have long to record all the information he wanted to pass on to the children.
“He spent hours talking to Claire, and we talked to her together too. She was incredibly patient and advised us on the best way to talk to the children about how serious Jim’s illness was.”
Jim wanted Claire’s support in writing letters to his children so he could tell them about their lives together when they were younger and the things he loved about being their Dad. Over the course of several meetings Claire made notes and transcribed them so Jim could sign them. Claire also helped Jim create memory books about his own childhood, his life experiences and his family, things that only he would know. Only templates that could be downloaded from the internet were available but these lacked the warmth and personalised approach that Claire felt was essential so parents can tell their story to their children.
Claire said: “Spending time with Jim and helping him record his memories inspired me to create a better way for parents to share their memories with their children. I then started work on the design of the Life Book which has now become one of the main items I use to help children cope with bereavement. Feedback on the Life Book has been very positive, particularly the way it is broken down into chapters making it much easier for patients, who may struggle to remember things, to complete and allowing them to reminisce about their lives. “
“It’s lovely” Justine said. “I think Jim would be really proud that he’s done something that we can all look back on and that other people will be able to use to share their special memories.”
On recalling the incredible effort Hospice staff made for the children in making Jim’s last weeks so special, Justine said: “Jim’s aim was to make it to Jaden’s 14th birthday in December and that gave him motivation to carry on. The staff put on a party in the family room with a buffet and cake. It was unbelievable how the support for us as a family was shown. It’s not just about the patient, we were supported just as much.
“The Hospice also arranged an ambulance so Jim could be brought home so we could celebrate Christmas early so he could have Christmas at home which was his last wish. I can’t believe he had that energy to that, to give the children their presents and sit with the family around the table but he had no more fight left after that and he died just three days later.”