Continuing Bonds with Neil

“I feel really lucky to have been chosen to be part of this special project.” Issy, Neil’s daughter

Portraits with Purpose: Continuing Bonds is a collaboration between St Oswald’s Hospice and Local Artist, Leanne Pearce. Working with 12 bereaved and pre-bereaved families who have accessed our bereavement support service and/or other care services, Leanne has created stunning paintings of their loved ones to support them in their ‘continuing bonds’ process. Here is the story of one of the families who took part in this unique and beautiful project.

Fun-loving Neil loved motorbikes, cars and tinkering with the campervan he bought as a restoration project.

He met Sara in 2008 and a year later, their daughter, Issy, was born.

Although the relationship didn’t last, Sara and Neil doted on their little girl.

Neil had ulcerative colitis for many years and when he began to feel unwell he assumed it was a flare-up of the condition. But when he ended up in A&E one evening with severe stomach pain, he was sent for tests and diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Neil underwent an operation on Issy’s 7th birthday to divert his bowel to a stoma bag.

He started chemotherapy soon afterwards and then had a second operation to remove his bowel, bladder and prostate. It was hoped the cancer had been removed but a few months later, it was sadly confirmed it had returned in his lymph nodes and bones.

Neil died in hospital in April 2018. He was 46.

Two weeks prior, 9-year-old Issy visited St Oswald’s Hospice to speak to Beth, our children’s bereavement lead, and continued to receive regular support after her dad died on a 1:1 and group basis.

“The support at St Oswald’s Hospice made Issy realise it was ok to talk about her feelings.”

Sara, Issy’s mum.

Four months after Neil died, tragedy struck the family again when Issy’s grandad was also diagnosed with bowel cancer.

When her grandad sadly died too, Sara recognised that, although devastated, Issy was able to deal with her grief differently – attributing this to the support at the hospice.

Issy has since become a Young Ambassador for St Oswald’s Hospice as a way of helping other young bereaved people and turning a negative experience into a positive.

The whole family love Leanne’s portrait of dad and daughter.

Issy helped paint the background in blue – the colour of Neil’s campervan – and added a secret heart in the middle, over which Leanne created the poignant portrait.

The teenager reflected: “I feel really lucky to have been chosen to be part of this special project. Coming to the hospice has allowed me to express how I feel without worrying about upsetting others. I have also really enjoyed being a Young Ambassador for St Oswald’s Hospice. I know that Dad and Grandad would be proud.”

Our care: Bereavement support

Visit our Portraits with Purpose: Continuing Bonds exhibition

Opening during Dying Matters Awareness Week, Portraits with Purpose: Continuing Bonds exhibition will be on display at Newcastle Civic Centre 10th – 17th May, 2024 (exc Sunday) on the following days and times:

• 9.30am – 4.30pm weekdays

• 10am – 3pm Saturday

There will also be a special Meet the Artist event 11am – 2pm on Saturday 11th May.

Find out more about the project and read other families’ stories below.

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