Glowing tributes as Sunbeams founder retires from Rotherham Hospice

SUNBEAMS founder Cath Todd was described as a “diamond” and “an inspiration” on her retirement from Rotherham Hospice after 25 years.

Nurse Cath and colleague Liz Hetherington set up the charity’s child bereavement service in 2011, and have since supported more than 400 youngsters.

Sunbeams helps young people understand their grief while providing them with a space to be creative, express feelings and interact with other children dealing with bereavement.

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Activities — split into two age groups — are geared around encouraging the five to 17-year-olds who have lost a loved one to share their feelings without feeling pressured.

Official hospice records show 368 children have been supported — but Cath says there could be a hundred more from before the records were on computers.

She added: “Although we recognised that there was a need for this, I wouldn’t have thought we would ever reach these numbers.

“There’s been a big increase because there’s nothing on offer elsewhere for kids. I think it could be even bigger than it is; they have to be quite restrictive on numbers because of funding.

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“It took a lot of time getting it off the ground. I’ve found notes of mine from 2007 talking about it when I was working on the ward, but nursing was the priority back then.

“More and more, I got support from people across the hospice. I appreciate that it’s an adult hospice and they don’t have to offer a service like this for children. So I’m grateful that they believed in us and continued to back Sunbeams.” 

A big step forward came in 2016 when a £10,000 grant enabled the building of a lodge just for Sunbeams sessions within the hospice’s peaceful Broom Road grounds.

Cath (64), of Scholes, said: “It enabled the kids to have an area that was a bit more child-friendly but still at the hospice, which a lot find comforting. Having their own space is important. 

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“They also have a space in the garden where they can walk or sit and have five minutes to themselves.

“It’s amazing what comes out from the kids when they are relaxed.

"Making memory boxes was an activity I always enjoyed. We progressed from shoeboxes to actual wooden boxes we would buy.

“For the kids, it’s important that they have memories to look back on, and I’ve heard some of them who came years ago still have their boxes.

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“The items don’t have to be big. It might be a ticket to somewhere they went, or an aftershave or perfume that brings back the memories through smells.”

A farewell party was held at the hospice for Cath, whose retirement will include more walking, running and time with family.

“I had worked at the hospice for a long time and knew a lot of people,” she said. “I don’t like to be centre of attention but it was nice to catch up with everyone. 

“Thank you to everyone who’s helped to make Sunbeams what it is today. Without the volunteers, it couldn’t have survived.”

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A key player in the Sunbeams story was Millers legend and hospice ambassador John Breckin, whose wife Denise died at the hospice in 2006.

“I’m strong,” said Breck. “I’ll still fight or debate with anyone, and I can tell a footballer that we’re releasing him or that he’s not good enough. But how do you tell your eight-year-old that her mum won’t come home?

“I told Cath: ‘I’m lost. I just don’t know what to say to Jess.’ Cath went away, studied a bit and phoned me. 

“We all sat in a room and Cath was just unbelievable. She said to Jess: ‘You know why your mum’s here? She’s been really strong, but there’s no medicine that can make her better.’ 

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“They talked about what happens with pets, they got her talking. We were all crying.”

John encouraged Cath and her colleagues to set up Sunbeams — and has fundraised for the cause ever since.

“You go through life with hundreds or thousands of friends who are acquaintances, but only maybe five really good friends,” he said.

“Cath is one of those five for me. She’s special, she’s a diamond.”

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Former Sunbeams volunteer support worker Claire Dukes added: “Cath is such an inspiration and has put her heart and soul into supporting local families.

“She will be greatly missed. I will forever be grateful to her for giving me this opportunity and for the experience this volunteer role gave me. I class her not only as a mentor, but also a friend.”

Sunbeams responsibilities have now been passed to Lisa Worrell and a new family counsellor has been taken on for a couple of days a week.

Cath said: “I didn’t want to leave until it was in safe hands!”


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