Back in the early 1990s I trained as a bereavement counsellor for our local Hospice. It was an interesting and rewarding occupation but a volunteering post that attracted some strange looks from family and friends. That was understandable given the topic of death and grief is so often shied away from.
It was a hugely enjoyable role, which may sound odd, but to spend time with people who needed some support at a moment in their lives when they felt adrift and bereft was a great honour and one that resonates with the current situation we find ourselves in.
The most valuable lesson I learned from my time as a bereavement counsellor was to give people the opportunity to talk. Unlike some other counselling arenas, there is no solution to be found to bereavement. There is no way to stop what is happening and take a different path to an alternative outcome.
The number of tragic deaths due to the Coronovirus is staggering and quite difficult to comprehend. I well remember the utter state of disbelief people had at the sudden and unexpected loss of life from the 9/11 event. The total that day was 2,977. As of 11th May, the UK total deaths from Covid was 32,692. If someone had told us in January that by the May Bank holiday weekend over 30,000 would be dead, we would have been incredulous.
What is harder to comprehend when you hear these daily figures is to remember they are a very personal loss to a family – for some they have been unfortunate to lose more than one member of their family to the disease. And the cruelty of the virus is that family cannot be with loved ones or indeed with each other, to offer comfort.
Part of our training involved the 5 stages of grief by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, which is famous for its pathway through death – Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining & Acceptance. There is also a book by David Kessler on the Sixth stage of Grief – Meaning. In this book, Kessler gives readers a roadmap to remembering those who have died with more love than pain; he shows how to move forward in a way that honours loved ones.
The most powerful thing I learned during that training time was the opportunity to give people the chance just to talk, without interruption or judgement.
Sometimes, more often than not, it wasn’t even about the person who had died. Various topics included children, finances, work…..but invariably all the topics hinged in some way on the death of the person who had meant so much to them, whether it be partner, mother, father, sibling, child.
By having the chance just to talk to someone about whatever was important to them on that day, gave them an opportunity to confront all the things swirling round in their head and ultimately, come to a sense of acceptance. Sometimes that took a few weeks, sometimes it took much longer.
Bereavement counselling was not a crutch for them; it was a building block for them to be comfortable in sharing their experiences, and then accept their loss so they could refocus and rebuild going forward. The fact this was with a stranger invariably was the most beneficial part, as they could say what they really felt without any judgement or worry about framing thoughts and feelings in such a way as to not batter anyone emotionally closer to them.
So, the Lesson from Lockdown this week is to remember that giving someone the ability to really talk about how they feel, what they are experiencing and not to shy away from difficult topics or try to find a solution to their plight is a gift and one that we can all employ. Whether that is now in these difficult times or in our “normal” day to day lives, we all have the ability to let others unburden themselves. Finding an answer isn’t our responsibility, but showing empathy, kindness and caring will go a long way in them working it out for themselves.
If you would like to read our other Lessons from Lockdown, visit our blog page