Losing a loved one is arguably the most difficult time in anyone’s life – but explaining death and grief to children can be particularly hard.

To mark National Grief Awareness Week (December 2-8), the oncology ward team at Peterborough City Hospital is using the week to remind families of the compassionate services available to them should they need them.

Ward healthcare assistant Jo Cliffe said: “We are here for every person who enters the ward; patients, their family and extended family. When a loved one passes away in our care, we are often the first team to be by the family’s side at the start of their grieving process.”

Jo has been instrumental in offering families – children and younger members in particular – some comfort through creating imaginative keepsake and memory offerings.

This includes access to specially-selected books for younger children, hand-sewn memory hearts, and decorated jars which Jo fills with a packet of Forget Me Not seeds and (if desired by the family) key rings with a thumb print of their loved one.

Jo – who has worked on the oncology ward for the past five years – added: “Many families find that the key rings do help them, and some families even request a lock of hair from their loved one which we can put in the memory jar for them.

“We recognise that this is a truly difficult time for people and the team is very much here to support anyone who needs an arm around them, including colleagues on the ward.

“We hold the hands of many patients in their last moments, arrange for the Trust chaplains to visit them if they wish, and assist in their requests to write birthday cards for those they are leaving behind.

“I love my job and I feel very privileged to have the role I do, providing care to those patients who choose to spend the end of their life with us.”

The team, which is also supported by chaplaincy service and each other, tries to offer as many home comforts as possible for families; with welcoming relatives’ rooms fully stocked with a range of tea and coffee, snacks and soft drinks, games and books for children and even a sofa which can pull out into a double bed should any overnight stay be requested.

Jo added: “I sometimes think about what I would like to be offered if I was in the patient or family member’s situation. The care and support we offer to them, which we do to the very best of our ability, is something we are very proud of.”

Earlier this year, Jo was nominated for a Peterborough Health Hero Award as part of North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust’s Outstanding Achievement Awards 2023.

She was recognised by the public nominee for the care and compassion she showed to a patient’s family and extended family; including gifting a book to a child during their grandparent’s stay on the ward.

“I wouldn’t be able to do my job without a hugely supportive team and we wouldn’t be able to do it without each other,” added Jo.

For details on National Grief Awareness Week please visit National Grief Awareness Week (thegoodgrieftrust.org).