Sunflower Memories: Claire’s story

After Claire Wells’ mum, Jan, was supported by Pilgrims Hospices, she now dedicates a sunflower in her memory as part of the charity’s Sunflower Memories campaign.

Here, Claire shares why sunflowers are so special to her family.

Jan painting sunflowers at Pilgrims

My main experience of Pilgrims Hospices was my many visits to the Therapy Centre with my mum, Jan. She had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, and referred to Pilgrims for wellbeing support, until end-of-life care was needed. I went along with her to many of the arts and crafts and Time to Create groups. They really woke up our creativity, and became lovely mother-and-daughter activities we could share in.

Despite living with a terminal illness, she really flourished during that year of painting, knitting and crafting. She particularly enjoyed one Time to Create group, where they painted sunflowers, and from then on it seemed our life was full of them. She had become this very sunny, bright person – she bought a bright yellow coat, so she even looked like a sunflower!

Mum became obsessed with knitting, and I learned how to crochet sunflower brooches. We got so many people asking about them that I started taking a few out with me, so then we could offer them out to those we met. They are such a wonderful flower – they seemed to exude joy and brighten everyone’s day. We ended up handing out so many that when it came to Mum’s funeral, everyone there was wearing one. It was such a comfort to us all, and so powerful to see that she was still spreading happiness.

Jan in her yellow coat

Unfortunately, a year on from her diagnosis, Mum went downhill very quickly, and spent her last five days in the Ashford hospice, in January 2020. We’ll never forget our experience there, it was so comforting and everyone you came across there was so kind. We owe huge thanks to the multi-disciplinary team, we will always be so grateful for the care we all received.

A few months after Mum died, we came back to the hospice and had lunch in the cafe, as my dad felt so close to her there. We saw some leaflets about Sunflower Memories and just thought we had to do it, because sunflowers had been such a big part of our lives over that last year. It was very powerful and lovely in its own way.

Each year Pilgrims Hospices give care and comfort to thousands of people in east Kent who are coming to terms with an illness that sadly cannot be cured. The charity support patients to live life as well as possible until the very end, free from pain and distress.