Val has been a bereavement volunteer in Morgannwg since 2006. She has been widowed twice, the second time after becoming a volunteer.
After being married for 32 years, Val’s first husband, Mic, who was fit and healthy, died very suddenly at the age of 52 in 2003. Later on Val met Vic, whom she subsequently married. But unfortunately after only a short time together, Vic had a heart attack while out windsurfing and drowned in 2010. 'You don’t think lightening will strike twice', Val said of her experiences.
A year after her first husband's death, Cruse came to Val’s local town to hold an information session about grief, which she decided to attend. It was there that volunteering for Cruse was mentioned, and Val put herself forward. First she joined her local management committee for a couple of years, then she trained to be a Bereavement Volunteer in Morgannwg in 2006.
Why did you decide to volunteer for Cruse?
The overarching thing was that I wanted to help other people – other people who were in the same position that I had been in.
Experiences of grief can completely change your outlook on life. I was a very hard-driven career woman, and I changed a great deal. It makes you realise what is really important. Work was never quite the same after that.
I was actually very dubious about becoming a Bereavement Volunteer at first. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I even said to one of the trainers at the end of the course 'I don’t know if I can do this'. I was worried about my ability to handle other people’s pain, and all the things that might come up, all the 'what ifs?'. But as soon as I started actually seeing clients, all that went out of the window – you just want to help them.
Even if you don’t think your impact has been immediate, you’ve planted something in them – and that will help them.
What do you like about volunteering for Cruse, and what have you learned?
Part of it for me is to pay back my debt of gratitude that I came through my bereavements OK. For me it was actually easier the second time I was widowed because I knew I could get through it, and my experience with Cruse helped me greatly. I took a year off after Vic died. I now volunteer on the National Helpline as well as working one-to-one with clients and also supervising.
I’ve learned a tremendous amount through being a Bereavement Volunteer with Cruse. It’s now such a big part of my life and I can’t imagine not doing it. It has opened my eyes to a lot of things.
In the UK death seems to be a tremendously difficult things for people to handle – we aren’t exposed to grief and mourning as in some other countries and cultures. There’s no education about it and it’s can be very hidden.
What would your advice be for someone who is thinking about becoming a Cruse Bereavement Volunteer?
There is a tremendous amount of support with Cruse – you are never on your own. You always have the support of a supervisor, so you always have someone to turn to. You can start by taking it very gently and go at your own pace.
Don’t be afraid to try it. I remember someone saying to me 'if you only knew the help you give to people just by listening to them'. And that made me think, yes, I could do this. Walking alongside them on their journey, that’s what it’s about. It can be difficult because there is no magic wand, and we can’t 'fix' it for them, but we can listen, and that’s an enormous service.
I remember when I was bereaved what kindness people showed, and that has had an influence on me. It meant so much.
I also think it’s important to know that not all Cruse Bereavement Volunteers have a background in counselling, or any kind of caring profession. I was an Engineer for my whole career before coming to Cruse – it couldn’t be further away. But it just goes to show that it doesn’t matter what your background is, and that it shouldn’t put you off.
What would your advice be for someone who is thinking about coming to Cruse for help?
The main thing I would say is that they have to feel ready to do this themselves – not because someone else thinks that they should. Then, there can be huge relief in just being listened to, empathetically and without judgement.