After Alyson McKenna’s partner, Mitch, was supported by Pilgrims Hospices, she now dedicates a sunflower in his memory as part of the charity’s Sunflower Memories campaign. Here, Alyson shares how joining together with others helps to bring her some peace.
Mitch was a kind, fun-loving, friendly, beautiful and generous man. Almost on a daily basis, he would surprise me with flowers, chocolate, a day out or any other wonderful thing that he could do to make us happy. He was a wonderful chef and loved his dogs immensely.
The first flowers he brought me were sunflowers and the first photo he sent me was of him holding them. The fact that as a single flower they stand tall, show colour, beauty and strength, you can’t help but smile when you see them.
The day brings me happiness and sadness, but seeing all of the other sunflowers and the people looking at them brings a touch of peace.
Mitch passed away on 13 July 2014. On 25 July, my 50th birthday, I had bright colours and sunflowers as a gesture to him at his funeral.
Because the hospice had my contact details, they sent me a letter a month later about starting a sunflower appeal to raise money. I cried at such a wonderful idea and as it was so personal to me, I obviously took part.
Although the display has differed over the four years, the meaning remains the same. The memories of our loved ones who tried to stay strong are represented by these beautiful individual flowers of strength, courage and beauty.
On each of the sunflower plaques I have collected from the appeal, I have written the year and will do so for as long as the event continues. The day brings me happiness and sadness, but seeing all of the other sunflowers and the people looking at them brings a touch of peace. It’s very special to hold an event for the family and friends of those who have left us. There’s a complete sense of understanding between everyone there.
When I see sunflowers, I think of Mitch. I recently purchased a beautiful silver sunflower pendant based on Van Gogh’s painting from the National Gallery, which I wear every day.
After Sarah Gregory’s mum, Shirley Sharp, was cared for at Pilgrims Hospice Thanet in 2014, the family now dedicate a sunflower in her memory as part of the charity’s Sunflower Memories campaign. Here, Sarah shares how this helps them to gather together and remember Shirley in a place that brings them comfort.
My mum was a very sociable person who lived for her family. She loved her four grandchildren beyond measure, always the fun grandma who told stories and showered them with affection and home-cooked food. By profession, she was a cook at St Bartholomew’s School in Sittingbourne where she used to cook old classics like bacon roly poly and gypsy tart!
Mum enjoyed visiting the day hospice, chatting with others going through the same experiences as her, and creating special memory boxes for the grandchildren. She always felt completely safe at Pilgrims and became visibly more relaxed.
I always think of donating to the hospice for Sunflower Memories as an alternative to being able to buy Mum presents, whilst giving something back so that Pilgrims can be there for more people who need them.
When mum was admitted to Pilgrims as an inpatient, we regularly visited her along with the children, who always felt comfortable going in to see her. They would usually say hello to their grandma then go off to look for the hospice cat, Claudia, whilst we took Mum out into the beautiful hospice gardens. The hospice was always such an open and honest place for us all to be and no one ever felt scared or fearful; everyone managed to put us at ease, from the volunteers on reception to the nurses and doctors. Even the food was delicious and the chef would often make whatever Mum requested.
Pilgrims gave Mum a purpose to her life near the end; she would have gone to the day centre every day if she could. As soon as you walk in the door of the hospice it feels like you are encompassed by a big invisible hug and that even the worst scenarios could be dealt with.
Although we will never be able to repay the hospice for the amazing care they gave us all as a family, I always think of donating to the hospice for Sunflower Memories as an alternative to being able to buy Mum presents, whilst giving something back so that Pilgrims can be there for more people who need them.
Sunflower Memories is such a lovely event to attend as a family, an opportunity to remember Mum together, and for the children who really enjoy seeing Mum’s name on the sunflower plaque in the hospice gardens. The day provides us with a special time to think about Mum at a place that brings us all comfort, and we’re looking forward to dedicating our plaque again this year.
Sunflower Memories events will take place at our hospices in July 2019:
After Jacqueline Spencer’s husband, David, was cared for at Pilgrims Hospice Canterbury in 2015, she now dedicates a sunflower in his memory as part of the charity’s Sunflower Memories campaign.
Here, Jacqueline shares how this helps her to remember David and come together with others who have experienced Pilgrims’ care.
David was a keen gardener and loved being outside pottering around and feeling the fresh air on his face. After he had an epileptic fit in his thirties, he was unable to work and so our roles reversed. David became a house husband, raising our two children Tami and Neil, looking after the house and cooking lots of delicious meals. He came from a big family and was one of 16 children!
He was a real home-loving man, although we loved our holidays too. We travelled a lot together once the children had grown up, visiting Kenya, Bali, Sri Lanka, Gambia and India, to name a few. It was always important to us to make lots of memories and to see the world together.
Sunflower Memories is such a lovely day, where you can take time to remember your loved one whilst being surrounded by others who have gone through the same thing. You don’t even need to say anything to each other, there’s just a silent understanding of what each other has gone through and all of the emotions that come with it.
In August 2014, David was diagnosed with lymphoma of the brain and taken to a specialist hospital up in London. He would spend almost the next year of his life there on an isolation ward receiving treatment. Although he was cared for wonderfully, David missed the outdoors and his beloved garden. On the 23 July 2015 we celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary at the hospital, and the day after David was transferred down to the hospice in Canterbury.
David had said he just wanted to go home, and whilst the hospice wasn’t our home, it felt so much more like it. He had his own room with doors that opened out onto the beautiful gardens, and this made all the difference to him. He seemed so at peace whilst at the hospice, and was able to feel the fresh air on his face once again. It was such a pleasant and calm environment for all of us to be in and so much easier to visit David.
The hospice was just the most a welcoming place for the whole family to be; on one occasion, David’s 8-year-old niece, Amelia, came to visit him. It was so lovely to have her there and she didn’t feel scared or upset at all as the hospice allowed her to relax, have a go on the piano, and play with the toys they provide. Everyone could just act as naturally as they would at home, and feel comfortable in doing so. It’s all of these little extra things and the lengths the staff go to, which make the hospice such a special place. Nothing was ever too much trouble, we were always kept updated about David’s condition and were allowed to stay overnight with him whenever we wanted.
I attended my first Sunflower Memories day in 2018 with my daughter and son-in-law, having previously attended the Trees of Love service. Sunflower Memories is such a lovely day, where you can take time to remember your loved one whilst being surrounded by others who have gone through the same thing. You don’t even need to say anything to each other, there’s just a silent understanding of what each other has gone through and all of the emotions that come with it. The care provided by the hospice is simply amazing – even at the Sunflower Memories days you are truly looked after and still made to feel special by the staff and volunteers.
I’m looking forward to attending Sunflower Memories once again this year, and to taking my special sunflower plaque for David home with me to keep.
Sunflower Memories events will take place at our hospices in July 2019:
After Christina Johnson’s mum, Julie, was cared for at Pilgrims Hospice Ashford in 2016, the family decided to dedicate a sunflower in her memory as part of the charity’s Sunflower Memories campaign. Here, Christina shares how this helps them to remember Julie and take comfort with others who have experienced Pilgrims’ care.
Mother’s Day was always important to us as a family and an opportunity to show Mum how very loved she was. During her time at the Ashford hospice, this was no different. Incredibly, the nurses helped us decorate Mum’s room with banners and flowers, and we brought in doughnuts to enjoy together. It was such a special day and so amazing that we were still able to do this for Mum at such a difficult time.
Mum was very family orientated and was just the best mum to myself and my sister, Sarah, as well as a loving wife to my dad. She was so caring and always thought of others first, loved meeting up with friends, listening to music, and absolutely doted on her pride and joy; her cat, Billy.
It’s so lovely to be able to dedicate a sunflower marker in Mum’s memory and comforting for us to return to the hospice and be amongst other families we got to know whilst Mum was being cared for.
Mum was cared for by Pilgrims at the end of 2015 and again in February 2016 until she passed away on 26 March 2016, aged 58. The team at Ashford gave my wonderful mum the very best care and treatment and provided us all with the support we needed throughout the whole awful experience, for which we will be forever grateful.
Pilgrims was such a peaceful space for us all to be in, and Mum felt completely safe. She always said it was more like a luxury hotel than what she’d imagined a hospice to be. The staff were completely flexible with us all staying over and visiting; at one point we had 10 visitors in Mum’s room! Mum couldn’t believe that she was even offered a glass of wine in the evening; it’s all the little touches that make a difference and really lift people’s moods at such a difficult time.
The special Pilgrims staff made my mum feel comfortable and took a genuine interest in her life; one nurse called her ‘Chelsea’ after learning what a big Chelsea football supporter she was. Mum was even treated to hand and foot massages and pedicures by a complementary therapist; this was a brilliant way for her to relax, but also to ensure she had dignity and respect during her time at the hospice as she always liked to look her best.
It’s so touching how the hospice continues to be there for you even after your loved one is gone. My dad found it hard to talk about his feelings and Pilgrims offered him counselling and therapeutic painting, which made a huge difference. It’s this ongoing care that is so special and makes you feel like you’re part of a big Pilgrims family.
It’s very special for all of us to be part of the tranquil Sunflower Memories days. We will always feel a connection to the hospice, which has truly become part of our family over the last couple of years. It’s so lovely to be able to dedicate a sunflower marker in Mum’s memory and comforting for us to return to the hospice and be amongst other families we got to know whilst Mum was being cared for.
Pilgrims is an outstanding charity and we feel so lucky that our lovely mum was able to spend her last months in such a wonderful and caring environment. It will forever be a special place to us all.
We will be remembering Mum this Mother’s Day and look forward to dedicating our marker for Sunflower Memories once again this June.
Sunflower Memories events will take place at our hospices in July 2019:
Sunflower Memories grow vital donations for hospice
Hundreds came together for Sunflower Memories this weekend, a colourful event where people gather to celebrate cherished memories of their loved ones in Pilgrims’ hospice gardens.
Around 900 people attended Pilgrims Hospices Sunflower Memories gatherings to see beautiful sunflower plaque displays in the charity’s Ashford, Canterbury and Thanet hospice grounds. The sun was shining and there was a lovely atmosphere at each event, with the opportunity for people to remember and celebrate their loved ones’ lives.
This was Pilgrims’ fifth annual Sunflower appeal, the biggest yet and by far the hottest! With the temperature soaring into the high 20s, visitors shared special memories with the Pilgrims team in the tranquil gardens while enjoying cool drinks, tea and cake. So far the event has raised an amazing £26,500, but with extra donations and Gift Aid the total should reach £30,000 for the three events. This amazing figure will support hundreds of people living with an incurable illness in east Kent, with donations continuing to come in.
Our Sunflower events are so uplifting. There was a lovely atmosphere of kindness as visitors took comfort in sharing their stories of loved ones.
Sophie Douch, Individual Giving Officer at Pilgrims Hospices
Sophie Douch, Pilgrims Hospices Individual Giving Officer, said: “Our Sunflower events are so uplifting. There was a lovely atmosphere of kindness as visitors took comfort in sharing their stories of loved ones. As well as the sunflower memory marker displays, our gardens were decked with beautiful sunflower seedlings, grown by Pilgrims’ gardeners and volunteers, and visitors enjoyed gentle music and refreshments in the beautiful hospice grounds.”
Each event was supported by Pilgrims volunteers helping with refreshments, merchandise and selling sunflower plants as well as welcoming people, helping supporters find their sunflower plaques, and being there for people putting memories on the Memory Wall.
The Sunflower appeal plays an extremely important role in Pilgrims’ campaign to support as many people as possible.
Sophie added: “Each year this special appeal goes from strength to strength. We would like to thank everyone who has made our remembrance days so very special. This is such an incredible amount of money to raise for hospice care. Every £50 could pay for essential nursing supplies, so as you can see it will help to make a real difference to families needing our support.”
The sunflower memory markers will remain in the grounds of the three Pilgrims’ hospices in Ashford, Canterbury and Thanet over the coming two weeks with visitors welcome to view them.
If you still wish to take part, Pilgrims will continue to accept contributions until mid-August at pilgrimshospices.org/sunflowers. You can also call the team on 01227 782 062 or visit your local Pilgrims Hospices reception.
Thank you to the Westerleigh Group for their continued annual sponsorship of the appeal, and to the following garden centres for donating seeds, pots and compost for Pilgrims’ volunteers to grow 300 sunflowers:
Each year Pilgrims supports hundreds of local people coping with a life-limiting illness and their families. The charity offers a range of services: from the end of life care given on its wards, to its Wellbeing and Social programme supporting people after they are diagnosed to live well and stay independent.