After Keith's granddaughter sadly passed away, the family accessed our bereavement services in our Eltham hospice. Our bereavement facilities allowed the family time to say their goodbyes, whilst being supported by our nursing and care team.

Keith began to look for ways in which he could give back to Demelza and for Volunteers' Week, he has shared his story of becoming a #TeamDemelza volunteer:

“I first came to Demelza, not as a volunteer, but as a grandparent. My beautiful, very brave granddaughter was born in May 2019.  Her parents and my wife and I were so proud of her, as she was constantly smiling when not receiving treatment in hospital for the many challenges she faced. She was born with complex medical needs and received a diagnosis of Downs Syndrome and a number of serious conditions which required a lot of operations and long stays in the hospital. Despite the many hospital stays, all seemed to be going well until she was also diagnosed with progressive leukaemia when she was 17 months old; she sadly passed away at home following unsuccessful treatment, aged 21 months.

"She was then brought to Demelza’s South East London hospice, where her parents were able to stay with her for five nights and say their goodbyes in their own time. My wife and I also were able to stay for one night to say our goodbyes and support her parents. It was obviously the worst time in any of our lives, but the Demelza staff were unbelievably sensitive – they were supportive without being overbearing, and they eased a very painful time for all of us."

"In July of the same year, I started looking at ways I could give back to Demelza and heard about volunteering with their Practical Support team, who work to assist families with the everyday tasks most of us take for granted; DIY, grocery shopping, gardening, and driving from A to B. I’m useless at DIY (my skills lie elsewhere!), so in the end, we agreed that I’d be a driver for the families Demelza supports."

"Most of the time, that involves picking up families who have a child in a wheelchair in one of Demelza’s specially-kitted out vans and getting them to appointments at the various children’s hospitals. It also involves delivering gifts (like Easter eggs!) to Demelza families.

"Being able to take some pressure off parents and kids who are going through an awful time is really something special. You realise when you go through it yourself that it’s not just you, there are hundreds of families struggling in similar ways all the time. In common with many families, I don’t think we will ever get over the loss of our granddaughter, but the pain eases a bit after time passes. I’m happy to be able to – in a small way – ease that burden for other families where I can.

"I think the big thing that strikes you when you volunteer with Demelza is how resilient many of those families are, and how positive. Like us, many families try to focus on what they have rather than what they had, which includes great memories as well as doing the very best they can for their children despite the challenges they face. A lot of the time they’ll be up for a bit of banter, they’ll laugh and joke with you, and you come away with a real sense of how strong and kind people can be even in the face of something terrible."

Volunteer, Keith, is dressed as Father Christmas and he is sitting in his grotto.

Becoming Father Christmas

"Demelza also put on a Christmas Grotto last year in Sittingbourne, and they asked me to be Father Christmas for four days! That was a really lovely experience, getting to interact with the kids and families in a less formal setting and actually seeing them smiling and having a good time, even just for a little while. A lot of families just don’t get experiences like that without Demelza’s help. If a child has a severe disability, the noise and chaos of a normal shopping centre grotto can be way too much; not to mention that with COVID-19, that was probably the first time in a long time that many of those families got to do something that felt so normal, and it was a genuinely heartwarming experience getting to be a part of that.

"Imagine a little boy or girl meeting Father Christmas for the very first time, seeing their face light up and hearing their excited laughter, and knowing you’re the reason it’s able to happen. That’s as good an argument as I can make for getting involved with Demelza."

"Now more than ever, Demelza needs willing volunteers to help the families they support. Whatever your skillset, whether you’re a dab-hand at gardening or a whiz in the kitchen, just a few hours of your time a week can make that unimaginable difference to a family who needs it."

To Keith, and every one of our dedicated volunteers - thank you! We simply couldn't provide vital care and support to the families who need us most, without you.