Janet, aged 64 from Hampshire has volunteered at South West Surrey Cruse for 28 years. After attending Cruse’s one day loss and bereavement workshop in 1991 she was inspired by the charity and trained to become a bereavement supporter.
Janet said: “I am a nurse by profession and I first heard about Cruse Bereavement Care when a colleague asked if I would like to attend a one day loss and bereavement workshop run by Cruse when I started working at a GP practice. There isn’t much emphasis on death when you train to become a nurse so I was very keen to do the training.
“After going on the workshop in 1991 I felt very inspired by the work that Cruse does so trained to become a Cruse bereavement volunteer. I then went on to do group support, become a supervisor and train to support children and young people after a bereavement.
“Although it seems like I have been a volunteer for a long time, it has flown by and I am forever learning. What has always struck me is the support given to Cruse volunteers, I have always felt very valued which has been great and probably one of the reasons I am still volunteering today.
“One of the things that touches me is how humbling being a bereavement supporter is. It feels very special when someone opens up and shares their story with you and you go on part of this journey with them. You gain more than you give and learn to value every minute of every day because some of the stories you hear are just absolutely heart wrenching, it makes you value what you have.
“There have certainly been challenges along the way, both with volunteers and clients. It has also been very important to look after myself as the work is unique and can be emotionally difficult. When I retired almost 10 years ago, it was important for me to keep a balance between Cruse and my personal life, as it could be very easy to become a full-time volunteer.
“There aren’t any particular words that I give when I support people. I remember one woman I supported after her daughter died asking me how she could possibly get through this tragedy. I used Tonkin’s model to explain that in the early days after a bereavement your grief is all consuming, it can be compared to a large black circle. Most people assume that the big dark circle will shrink after time, but actually it remains the same, as you begin to build a new life around your grief. Life will never be the same, but you learn to cope with it. A lot of my clients benefit from this analogy.
“I don’t have a tailored structure when I support people. Instead I work with clients to see what they need and build a relationship with that person to understand what is best for them. Usually a client will not want the sessions to end and I often say ‘I think we should all have Cruse support once a fortnight as we all need time to talk’. It is so important to be able to talk and listen to others and I hope people learn from the support they are given by Cruse and listen and talk to friends and family.
“If someone is struggling after the death of a loved one, I would recommend they get support, I am so passionate about it. It might not feel right for you, but just having that chance to talk to someone may well help. It can sometimes be difficult to speak to friends and family as they could also be grieving, so it can help to talk to someone that is not affected. Being able to say everything you need to someone not emotionally involved is very powerful.”