Mel, aged 30 is a bereavement volunteer for Cruse Oxfordshire. She completed her training last year and at our 60th anniversary conference in July she won the Young Volunteer of the Year award for her dedication and invaluable work.
Mel says: “I heard about Cruse Bereavement Care through my tutor at college where I had been studying counselling for the previous two years. I wanted to get some experience and after having some trouble with another organisation, I felt I was welcomed with open arms by the Oxfordshire branch of Cruse.
“I started my training in 2018. It was intense and tough at times but also very informative and interesting and I met some wonderful people. It was invaluable to work alongside the other group members, the majority of who’d had their own experience of bereavement to share. I also had the privilege of getting to know some of the more experienced volunteers who generously gave up their Saturdays to be my guide and scribe on the training days. They were all so warm and helpful and were happy to take me into town over the lunch break to get a much needed walk around and some fresh air after discussing such difficult topics!
“The reason I had been studying counselling was that I found having a counsellor incredibly helpful after experiencing my own loss which was the sudden loss of my eyesight through cancer. I was just coming up to 24 years old and in what felt like an instant all the hopes and dreams I had for my life were shattered.
“It is hard to express how deeply the loss of my sight has affected my life, but I will say that I would not have known how much we as humans are able to cope with if I hadn’t. I also like to think it has made me a more compassionate and patient person with a greater understanding of others and the difficulties we all face. Ideally I wish I hadn’t had to go through something so traumatic to get to this point but unfortunately sometimes you can only really learn from experience!
“I enjoy being a bereavement volunteer because I like to help other people the way other people have helped me. I appreciate the power of being listened to by somebody who gives you their full attention, who doesn’t interrupt and is there to listen to your story without judgment. Even with the best intentions, sometimes it’s difficult to get this from family and friends which is why counselling and the services that Cruse provide are so important. It gives people the space to talk openly about how they are really feeling without the fear of upsetting those around them.
“It also feels good to be able to assure people that what they are feeling is completely normal. I think sometimes this is helpful for people to hear and makes them feel less lonely in their grief. My favourite thing is when the conversation becomes light hearted for a moment and you share a laugh, which happens more often than you might expect! I think it’s so important to keep a sense of humour when times are tough.
“A client I will never forget was my first. Initially I was very unsure how I was going to be able to help. I was so shocked and angry by the things she was telling me about how she had been unfairly treated in many ways after the loss of her husband. I was then taken aback by how quickly she started to feel better after being given the chance to speak about her feelings and tell her side of the story. This seemed enough for her to start thinking onwards and making positive changes for her and her family.
“I would encourage somebody to become a volunteer if they enjoy listening to others, are able to see things from other people’s perspective and have the patience to step back and listen without needing to fix things quickly. Some people have a natural flair for this, but I’d say more often we need to make a conscious effort to learn these skills. I’m so glad I had a grounding in counselling skills before training with Cruse.
“I admire Cruse for their person centred approach to supporting their clients, in the way that they offer different methods of support depending on their needs. It’s fantastic that people can be visited in their home or on the phone if that makes things easier for them at such a difficult time. It’s also great that people can be supported at the office if that’s more convenient for them, or join a support group if connecting with others in a similar situation is what they need.
“I would definitely recommend Cruse to someone I knew going through a bereavement if it seemed like the right time for them. I can see from my work with clients and my own experience that it can take some time for the initial shock of a loss to wear off and to actually understand how you are feeling. Therefore, it’s not something I would necessarily suggest straightaway but to consider when they have reached a point where it would be helpful to talk things through.
“I’m very pleased to be a small part of a great organisation built by people who take time out of their lives to help others. I knew the work would be challenging, which it is, but it is worth it for the warm feeling you get when you can tell you have really made a difference in someone’s life. I’m looking forward to learning more and becoming a more experienced bereavement volunteer.”
Read more 60 Voices, here.