“Everyone’s grief and bereavement is different but what everyone is feeling is real”

“I am a Bereavement Volunteer and the Client Allocations Secretary at Cruse, a national charity for bereaved children, young people, and adults.

Losses and bereavements can be just as varied as the people who experience them but what links people who come to Cruse for support, is the enormous and destabilising grief they experience in their own individual way.

Some people find grief very difficult to speak about and sometimes the people they want to talk to about it find it difficult to listen to. They just don’t know where to go. Cruse gives them a space where they can be listened to with empathy and without judgement.

Under the Community Roots network in Brighton and Hove, Cruse offers one-to-one and group sessions for people in the city suffering with bereavement.

I became involved with Cruse almost two years ago when I joined as a Bereavement Volunteer for my counselling course placement. I completed the Bereavement Support Foundation course that all Bereavement Volunteers undertake and within a few months started seeing clients.

For our one-to-one Bereavement Service, we offer six free 50 minute sessions over six consecutive weeks. Before the pandemic, sessions were held in person and face-to-face in our Brighton office, but since the pandemic all support sessions take place via telephone or Zoom.

Everyone’s bereavement is totally different, everyone deals with it in a different way. Some bereavements are complex, some are traumatic, and some are what we might call more ordinary and expected. Some of the bereavements clients talk about have happened recently and others happened longer ago, some can have happened decades ago but were not dealt with. No two clients are ever the same.

When people call us for support they are put on the waiting list for the one–to–one Bereavement Service and in the meantime they will be able to access our online group session called Understanding Your Bereavement. This group programme gives an overview of the grief process and how someone might be feeling. For some clients, they feel this is enough for them to get through their situation and they decide not to pursue the one-to-one sessions. Others decide to remain on the waiting list for further support.

Covid had an impact on these group sessions so it’s taken time to relaunch them online in a format that works. We only offer video-calling via Zoom to ensure group and one-to-one sessions take place securely. As a member of BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) we work alongside their protocols, standards, and regulations.

We have found that the pandemic has knocked down barriers and resistance to clients receiving support over the phone and on video. Therapy does not need to take place in person for it to be effective.

We have some clients who still really want face-to-face contact and for some who don’t have a safe space in their home, going to a different location independent of them has value. It is likely that we’ll go back to facilitating in person sessions for some people when it is safe to do so.

As the Client Allocations Officer for Cruse the juggling act for my role now is to match client requirements with those of our Bereavement Volunteers’ and what they can facilitate. Some volunteers don’t have a laptop at home but they can do a session over the phone, and some clients might have a preference over phone or Zoom.

Cruse also offers a Children and Young Person’s (CYP) Service and takes referrals with the primary carer’s consent. These sessions follow the same principles and framework as the adult sessions with an awareness that everyone is an individual with a story that is totally unique to them.

Bereavement Volunteers are expected to see three clients weekly. In addition to the actual one-to-one sessions, we spend time preparing for them, maintaining client information on the Cruse system, and we attend monthly supervision.  Alongside this we continue our professional development. We give quite a lot of our time. We do it because we want to help, it’s worthwhile.

I love it. What’s really great about this role is that we allow people the space to talk honestly. We can’t change what has happened, but we can help them be open about what’s going on with them and help them to understand that what they are feeling or going through is to be expected. I feel it is a really important opportunity I can give people because in a small or big way it can help move them, shift them. It’s really fulfilling. I get a lot of reward from it.

Clients come from a spectrum of situations and bereavement, but every single one that comes to Cruse finds it very difficult to cope with and adjust to their loss. They struggle with the dramatic change in their life.

Covid is an added complexity and certainly in the last year I’ve noticed that it has really impacted people’s sense of coping because of the added isolation. It’s taken away all the norms of funerals and of being with others – in the same room, connecting and sharing.

I think that death is often a taboo. It’s something we’re fearful of because it is frightening and not something we want. Historically, death used to be more of a communal experience but that’s often quite different in today’s world. Our lives are disparate now and many people don’t live in a world where small communities come together in the same way. It can feel quite isolating if you live in a community where people are feeling different things to you.

Everyone’s grief and bereavement is different but what everyone is feeling is real. Often people think they should or shouldn’t feel something, but our work is to help clients accept how they’re feeling. It’s their journey and whatever they’re feeling is right for them.

This is why it is great that Cruse exists. It says, you’ve got grief, you’ve experienced loss, you can talk to us. No-one’s judging. We’re trained to listen.”

Cruse Bereavement Care offer support, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies.