On 1st January 2020, Gail’s father-in-law died after several years of being unwell. Gail, her husband Neil, and her son Tom had supported him closely in the years leading up to his death.
Gail initially came to Cruse looking for support for her son (age 19), but went onto receive support herself, not only in dealing with her own grief, but in supporting others through theirs.
How did you feel following the death?
I have been around death before with work – but it’s different because there isn’t that same relation. So it was quite a surreal experience and I was so guilt ridden, the fact that I had sent Neil and Jean home. They were deeply upset that he had died when they weren’t there. People have said this often happens, and I spoke to my Cruse volunteer about it. They know who is there.
Everyone was distraught, but I almost went into work-mode. I didn’t get emotional, I kept with it, I offered my condolences even though I was a part of it. As a family, I was referred to as the rock. I kept it together for everyone, answered their questions, organised everything around the funeral for example. Sometimes when these things happen you go into overdrive.
How did you come across Cruse?
I had actually heard of Cruse before because they have put on some training for professionals at work, and Alan was there speaking. So it’s bizarre that I was then allocated Alan as my volunteer!
Tom had started getting headaches, tight chest, and sleeplessness and was getting quite agitated, and even full blown panic attacks. I had to take him to hospital once, and it was while we were there that the consultant mentioned Cruse. He told Tom that what he was experiencing was pure grief, and the symptoms were the physical effects of grief. He said he knew how Tom was feeling and that Tom needed to speak to someone.
So when I got home we filled out the questionnaire. As for me, I got support from Cruse because I found it very difficult to cope with a teenager that was experiencing grief. I couldn’t understand and I was getting upset. I felt overwhelmed – it felt as though a wave was crushing down on me and I was getting sucked into it. I thought I was going mad.
I was angry at Neil’s Dad dying, for making my son feel this way. I couldn’t understand why this had happened to Tom. He was an outgoing lad, he liked football and driving, but everything stopped overnight. He wouldn’t go to work or stay in the house on his own. Even at 19 years old I had to sleep in his bed with him because he was frightened in case he didn’t wake up.
He had had a couple of weeks where he was on his own in the house, after it all happened and after we had all gone back to work, and we wonder whether that time to think and reflect brought out all these negative feelings.
A lot of the support I received at Cruse was looking at my coping mechanisms, and how I was going to support Tom, because I didn’t know what to do, or say.
What did you think when you first visited your local Cruse office?
The first time we went to the office, I knew we were in the right place. The people there were lovely. You know when you walk into somewhere and you feel safe. I felt safe, and if I felt safe then I knew Tom felt safe. When you walked in you were greeted so warmly, with lovely smiles. We just felt so comfortable.
After Tom’s initial assessment he said he felt as though a weight was lifted off his shoulders. He said he could give his thoughts and problems to somebody else instead of me. He felt as if he was giving it all to me to cope with, whereas now he felt like he was sharing it. After his first session he was eager to go back. It met my expectations and more, without a doubt.
How has Cruse supported you and your family?
My Bereavement Volunteer Alan has been absolutely amazing. It’s having the dedicated time, and the ability to be able to share issues, and address my concerns, as well as the time to work things out. That’s a big thing for me as well – because I don’t often have that protected time. So I’d speak to Alan when I was on a walk, in my car.
I used to just say everything was okay, I think I was quite isolated. I had lots of thoughts, but just said I was fine, but was terrified for Tom. I had resentment and anger, which wasn’t like me. We didn’t just have a death to deal with but also the change in Tom that we had on top. Alan has helped me understand why I’ve been feeling this way.
I’m very thankful for the support. At first I didn’t know whether I needed it or not, but I 100% needed it.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about coming to Cruse for support?
Cruse has been life changing for us. It’s given me, as an individual, but also us as family, the dedicated time to help sort through life’s challenging moments. I wouldn’t say we are through it, but we are working with someone that will help us get to where we want to be. I now know we aren’t on our own.
Alan is an absolute godsend. He is a lovely, lovely man. And while it will be good when we don’t need to see him anymore, it will also be sad. We will be forever grateful to Cruse and to Alan. It’s been an experience, but a positive experience, and one which I wouldn’t change for the world.
Tell us about your fundraising plans for Cruse
I was going to do the zip wire over the Tyne to raise money for Cruse but obviously that has been postponed because of the pandemic. But as a family next year we are going to climb Snowdon!