We very much want our gardens to be used to their full potential by the patients who are admitted here. We are currently upgrading and developing the hospice’s grounds and garden areas to make them a more accessible and relaxing place so that our patients can continue to enjoy life as much as possible.
As part of this, we have recently had to make the very difficult decision to review how the garden is being used by bereaved families. We understand that families often want to create some form of memorial to their loved one, and for a while, some families have been using the hospice garden for this purpose. Unfortunately in the last year or two, the number of memorial items and plaques placed in the ground in memory of a loved one has hugely increased – to the extent that parts of the grounds were beginning to take on the character of a cemetery or crematorium garden.
While it is no way our intention to cause offence or distress to bereaved families, we ask people to understand that placing large numbers of memorial plaques in the garden makes it very difficult to create a relaxing space for patients, many of whom are still coming to terms with their illness and facing a very uncertain future. Some patients who desperately need our help for symptom management are put off coming in because, as they often say to us, they are afraid that being admitted to the hospice might mean that they are imminently reaching the end of their lives.
For those patients very fearful of being admitted, it cannot be helpful to expect them to sit in a garden surrounded by memorials to the deceased, no matter how special these memorials are to the families who have placed them there. We also understand that the decision to create a garden space without traditional memorial items and plaques must inevitably cause bewilderment and pain to some; this is not our intention. We hope to create a garden space that will celebrate the lives of all our patients, past present and future.
Some of the memorial plaques and other objects have been there for many years; others have been placed more recently. Some of the families may have sought, and been given, permission in the past to do this; this change in the hospice’s position will do doubt be particularly difficult for them. Unfortunately, many more memorial items have just appeared without permission. We could not know the circumstances for every family; nor could we contact everybody in advance. We would like to assure families that the recent removal of garden memorial items was done with great respect and that they have been stored very carefully. Above all, this very difficult decision has been taken with the needs of our patients in mind and we hope that families will understand.
Should any family wish to claim any item, they are very welcome to do so by prior arrangement with the Family Support Team.
Dr Averil Fountain, Viv Culleton, Karen Eden and Marie Shelbourne
Halton Haven Hospice Executive Team