Sue received support from Cruse following a number of close family bereavements in the space of just a few years.
Sue’s mother died after a complex heart operation in 2002, followed by the tragic and sudden death of her brother in a sporting accident in December 2003. Not long after that, she then found her father, who had been struggling to cope in the aftermath, dead at his home after failing to arrive at her house for lunch.
“The toughest part for me was that I didn’t see any of them. Basically I just carried on as normal, I had a little boy so I had to carry on as most people do. And then just hit a wall.”
A few weeks after the death of Sue’s father, after not sleeping and eating properly, Sue eventually went to her GP who suggested she call Cruse. “I didn’t even know who Cruse were. But I saw a lovely lady who helped me for a few weeks and that was my road to getting better.”
When reflecting on her first impressions when she was referred to Cruse, Sue said “I had no vision, I was quite nervous about it actually. I didn’t know what to expect.”
Having gone through her own experiences of bereavement, a few years later Sue thought she could help others who may be in a similar situation to herself: “It was the help from Cruse, plus thinking I must help someone else who is in this situation – pushed me to go and sign up for the Cruse training.”
How did Cruse help you, and what would you say to someone who is thinking about coming to Cruse for support?
I just found the Bereavement Volunteer an incredibly good listener. She allowed me to offload a lot of things that I didn’t want to offload to the family – which is a common factor in bereavement.
The thing I often come across is people saying that they don’t want to upset anyone else in the family. To have someone at Cruse who is objective, who you can talk to and you don’t feel you’re going to upset in any way – and is going to listen to you talking about your grief is just a massive relief.
For me, I knew that once a week I could store up everything and that I could offload that to my Bereavement Volunteer. But also that it was only going to be an hour, so it wasn’t going to take up a huge amount of my day. I found it exhausting, I think most people do, but I knew I had a safety net.
When I had my last session with Cruse I was relieved, I’d done enough – I knew I wanted to go forward myself by that point and it was a natural conclusion.
What Cruse taught me was that it’s okay that certain things will trigger your grief, for the rest of your life. It could be years and years later, but you deal with it.
Why did you first sign up to be a Cruse Bereavement Volunteer?
Wanting to help other people was definitely my main reason for joining Cruse. And as soon as I joined the training course I knew I’d done the right thing.
The training took me back through what the Bereavement Volunteer had taken me through when I received support. But it also brought up so much more about how grief affects families – it gave you so much more insight, not just into your own situation but other people’s possible situations and things you hadn’t thought of, things that were more tragic than your own.
You suddenly realise the scope of grief. It was a really amazing course – it didn’t just give me information on how to help other people but also on how to deal with my own losses. It made me much more confident, and generally very strong in it all. It was excellent.
I started doing face-to-face support, and have also been doing some group work which I think is amazing, absolutely amazing. The confidentiality of the sessions makes people feel safe, they know that what they say in the room stays in the room – which is really important to the security of the group and encouraging people to talk openly. The safeguarding steps that Cruse takes makes people feel comfortable to do that.
What do you like about volunteering for Cruse, and what have you learned?
The main thing is the people that I have met – the breadth and scope of people that you meet is absolutely extraordinary. Somehow, whatever happens, every single one of them touches you in some way, and usually stays with you. Also, the training and the supervision I’ve had, I’ve never had anything like it in my working life.
The camaraderie is amazing amongst the Bereavement Volunteers. You realise that while you may have had a difficult story yourself, there are people with much, much more difficult situations. You can never think you know it all, because you don’t.
What would your advice be for someone who is thinking about becoming a Cruse Bereavement Volunteer?
My advice would be that you will find it incredibly rewarding – it’s as simple as that really. It can be tough, but if you’ve supported a client from being bereft to starting to cope and see some way forward – that is in itself a massive reward.
It’s also okay to have doubts – I was terrified at first, not about whether I could do the job but whether the person would be okay with me, would I say the right thing? Everyone feels nervous at first about whether they are going to do a good job – it’s very normal.
But once you’ve done that first session and you realise that just the ability for someone to purge their soul, before you can start working with them – can be such a massive relief for them. At Cruse it’s about leading someone by the hand through their grief, and helping them learn how to live with it.
I’ve so enjoyed working for Cruse, which seems an odd thing to say in the circumstances – but it has been an absolute privilege.