A NEW team in Gwent's health board is leading the way in providing compassionate, personalised support for bereaved families.

When David Roy Evans' health declined rapidly in the spring, some of his family members were unable to see him before he died at Nevill Hall Hospital.

“I never expected when he left the house a few days earlier that he was never coming back again," said Mr Evans' wife of 62 years, Marion.

From Princetown, Mr Evans - known as Roy - spent time in the army and had been captain of both Rhymney Rugby Club and the Tredegar and Rhymney Golf Club.

Following the sad news he had died at the age of 84, the new Care After Death team at the health board stepped in to make sure his loved ones could all say their goodbyes.

South Wales Argus: David Roy Evans and (right) with his granddaughter Gemma at her wedding. Pictures: courtesy of Gemma TurnerDavid Roy Evans and (right) with his granddaughter Gemma at her wedding. Pictures: courtesy of Gemma Turner

Through his granddaughters, the team arranged for a family viewing the next day. Mr Evans' loved ones were invited to write personalised messages on cards and to take their time to say goodbye to him in their own way. When Mrs Evans arrived, the team arranged for her husband to be holding a rose - at the family's request - and for him to be lowered so she could see him from her wheelchair.

“It was peaceful," said granddaughter Sadie Evans. "I didn't know what to expect as I hadn’t seen a deceased person before. It wasn’t scary and I’m glad I did it. Just [to have] that time where you’re not rushed and take it at your own pace."

Mrs Evans, too, said she "could never express my gratitude at being able to come and say goodbye to Roy after he passed".

For the Care After Death team, which has united the health board's bereavement and mortuary services, their priority is to look after families at an emotional, sometimes distressing time.

South Wales Argus: Lorraine Hughes, Care After Death manager of the new integrated service. Picture: ABUHBLorraine Hughes, Care After Death manager of the new integrated service. Picture: ABUHB

"The deceased patients and the relatives are at the centre of what we do," said Lorraine Hughes, the team's manager. "They are still a patient, even when deceased and it’s the little bits that help support the families of deceased patients even more."

The team is spurred on in some cases by their own memories of bereavement support which they felt fell short. Ms Hughes lost her own son when she was 20, and she "didn't feel that I got the service I needed".

At most health board sites, the service now provides a single face-to-face support function covering from the passing away of a patient, up to the release of the patient to funeral directors.

South Wales Argus: Memory boxes prepared by the Care After Death team. Picture: ABUHBMemory boxes prepared by the Care After Death team. Picture: ABUHB

The team works the health board to prepare documentation and provides support when relatives view patients at hospital sites. It also helps bereaved families find the right support and ensure that patients all receive the same dignified, appropriate care.

The team's members have also been raising charitable funds alongside donors to help support the creation of memory boxes, with Ms Hughes even recently completing a skydive in aid of these efforts. These boxes can contain handprints or locks of hair of loved ones and purple hearts upon family requests.

“A lot of our nanny’s memories and comfort with Roy was from holding his hand, always warm, keeping her safe," said Gemma Turner, Mr Evans' granddaughter. "Handprints are such a simple thing, but it means so much to us that handprints were done without us even asking. At those times, it can be a struggle to think clearly, so to have that keepsake provided without us having to request it is extremely appreciated."

Mrs Turner also praised the team's handling of the family's bereavement.

“In a stressful time, they were empathetic and understood the situation," she said. "When we were taken to a room which was calm and comfortable it made what is an awful experience somewhat more comfortable."