No one should be alone in grief

Meet our Bereavement Support Coordinator

With today marking the start of Grief Awareness Week, we’d like to introduce you to Anastasia Somerville-Wong who joined the hospice in March 2023 as our Bereavement Support Coordinator. Passionate about supporting those who have lost a loved one, Anastasia and her team of volunteer counsellors and listeners make a tangible difference every day by offering a compassionate ear and safe space for those navigating the difficult journey of grief. They help bereaved people find new meaning in life so that they can create a route forward. While it’s important that no one should be alone in illness and death, Anastasia also stresses that no one should be alone in grief.

The effect of bereavement on our health

“Bereavement has a huge impact on our psychological health and wellbeing,” says Anastasia. “While it can, in a positive way, focus our minds on our priorities and the important things in life, and even make us more empathetic and compassionate towards others, it can also cause long-term emotional distress, bewilderment, loneliness, depression, anxiety and numerous other psychological and physical wellbeing issues.”

The challenges of bereavement

“Those who have lost someone close to them can face enormous challenges coping with the overwhelming emotions of grief, but they may also have lost their identity (e.g. as a husband, wife, daughter, son, parent or carer), a source of income, a second/co-parent, their routine or role in life (especially if they were a carer for the deceased), their main companion, confidant and primary emotional support, and even their meaning in life and their will to go on living. Many bereaved people have to rebuild an identity, lifestyle and a sense of purpose in life. They may struggle taking on a lot of unfamiliar new jobs and responsibilities that their loved one used to manage, and the difficulty of learning new tasks, even simple ones, should not be underestimated when a person is in the midst of grief. Often, they are struggling just to get through each day and to do the bare minimum to keep themselves alive. Bereavement is as much about adjusting to a new life as it is about loss.”

How Rowcroft’s bereavement support can make a difference

“Rowcroft’s team of volunteer counsellors provide 1-2-1 support to relatives whose loved ones have died under the care of our teams. Our volunteer listeners also provide pre-bereavement support to Rowcroft patients and their carers.

“Bereavement support involves providing safe, non-judgmental spaces for loved ones to express their innermost thoughts and feelings, and how their loss has impacted upon them and those they care about. In doing so, their experiences are shared, normalised and their emotions validated. Deep listening and gentle explorative questions encourage clients to reflect on what they are really struggling with. They begin to gain perspective and understanding of what has happened to them and how they are responding to it, and clarity around what may still offer their lives a foundation of meaning and purpose, and what may help them to cope better and move forward with their lives.”

The work of our bereavement volunteers

“Our empathetic and highly skilled bereavement support volunteers who are trained here at Rowcroft and often have lived experience of grief themselves, visit relatives in their homes or in a public space. Over the course of ten hour-long sessions, they gently encourage relatives to talk about how they are thinking, feeling and coping. With their experience and knowledge, they are able to validate and normalise the emotions of grief and reassure relatives that their experiences are normal and will change over time.

Many relatives really appreciate being able to talk openly with someone outside their family and friendship circles. It means they can express how they are really feeling without worrying about upsetting anyone with strong emotions, difficult memories or traumatic experiences around a loss.”

Small steps towards meaning and purpose

“Often our volunteers support clients to take small steps to connect better with the things that give their lives meaning and purpose, empowering them to rebuild their lives.

“We also use remembering and restorative activities that help people to feel more connected to the deceased in ways that bring consolation, enhance positive memories and keep their loved one’s legacy alive.”

The importance of being listened to

“Many of those we support report how wonderful it was to be listened to and cared for after their loss, especially after all those involved with medical interventions and with the funeral have moved on and they are left alone with their grief. Many people go through their whole lives without experiencing being really listened to with empathy and without judgment by someone who has no agenda but to give them the space and time to talk and express themselves freely. Clients report feeling immense relief when they are reassured that their experiences, feelings and behaviours are not at all uncommon and are completely understandable.”

Finding new confidence

“Relatives also report that bereavement support gives them confidence to take positive practical steps to restore and enrich their lives. A volunteer might gently support them to take steps they are already considering but need a little encouragement to take, from something as simple as reconnecting with a friend or family member to going to a social meet-up or re-engaging with a hobby they used to enjoy.

“Some volunteers may be able to offer support to help a client to develop useful reflective or meditative practices that might help them to cope with difficult emotions. All these benefits have a positive impact on the families and friends of the bereaved, and many relatives report being able to be stronger for other family members who are struggling, because they themselves are being supported by us.

“Our impact as a service therefore goes well beyond the clients we actually see.”

No one should be alone in grief

“Many of the people we support are either socially isolated or have complicated relationships with those close to them, which means they cannot get all the emotional support they need from family and friends. Others have complexities to their grief, which their friends or family don’t know about or struggle to understand. I hope that our service will play a key role in Rowcroft’s No One Alone Appeal because while it’s important that no one should be alone in illness and death, it is just as important that no one should be alone in bereavement, since it is also a time in which we are at our most vulnerable and in most need of support.”

To find out more about the No One Alone Appeal and the important work the hospice is doing in working towards our vision of specialist end-of-life care for all, please see our No One Alone Appeal web page.

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