In this feature, Martina tells us how she is able to support bereaved parents at the most devastating time of their lives. Through counselling and one to one support she gives them a safe place in which to express their feelings.
I have the privilege of being the family support counsellor at Naomi House & Jacksplace. The main focus of my work is with bereaved parents; being there for them in their grief and helping them to navigate what has happened and to make sense of their feelings and emotions.
Quite often bereaved parents seek to protect those closest to themselves, for instance their partners, children and other family members. This can prevent them getting the support they require, and from being able to talk openly and honestly about their feelings and emotions. By being able to access family support and counselling, it gives parents a safe space to be able to say absolutely anything they want to. Everyone grieves in their own way and it may be that their partner isn’t grieving in the same way and doesn’t want to talk about how they are feeling, and that’s their decision. It’s important that parents know that there is someone else they can talk to if and when they feel ready.
A mum came to me seeking counselling to help her prepare for their son’s death. I didn’t have all the answers for her, but I helped her talk through her fears and discussed, with her the support that would be in place when the time came.
It is devastating when a family loses their child. The child has been their whole life. There is so much to deal with in the grief of losing their precious child, who they love so much. They can have feelings of guilt and ask themselves, “Should I have done more, could I have done more? I am still a parent, but my child isn’t here to care for, so who am I now? What do I do now?” It is huge for them.
One mum was reluctant to take up a counselling place as she felt there was always someone worse off than herself, despite having lost her son. Another mum had quite low self-esteem and didn’t want to be a burden. Through keeping in contact with her regularly and helping her understand that what she was feeling was valid, we decided that it would be helpful to formalise it and have weekly counselling sessions. Counselling takes place on a regular basis agreed between the parent and the counsellor and can help them talk about how they are feeling, and hopefully empower them and normalise their feelings. They have been through the most devastating time and it is normal to have the feelings they might be experiencing. However, counselling is not about offering platitudes or advice, or telling parents that it will get better.
The biggest challenge of lockdown has been being able to make sure we can provide the service that is needed and remain accessible, but in a very different way. Counselling and most of what we do, is easier face to face, but it’s just not possible at the moment and we’ve quickly had to get to grips with all the different online platforms!
At the beginning of lockdown, we contacted any bereaved families who we hadn’t heard from for a while, just to say hello. One lady said to me, “Thank you so much for phoning, it’s like everyone else has just forgotten us. Everyone has gone quiet, lockdown happened and everything stopped”. She really appreciated the phone call.
Through the contact with bereaved parents, we heard that for many of them, lockdown was a shock, even for some of those who hadn’t been in contact with us for a while. They had developed their own coping strategies to help them live with their grief, but still move forward. This might have been meeting up with friends, maybe even working again. But then all of a sudden those things stopped, and they felt totally isolated and overwhelmed by their grief again. Parents were so grateful that they could still access support from Naomi House & Jacksplace, albeit it in a virtual way.
At Naomi House & Jacksplace, we are very fortunate to have a very dedicated team of trained volunteer counsellors who have continued to work with us all the way through lockdown. Having their help means we haven’t had to limit the number of sessions we offer families and the parent and counsellor can work together to agree when counselling comes to an end. Everyone is unique and there will be different experiences and different needs and we work with the parent to ensure that their needs are met.
As well as one to one counselling for bereaved parents, I co-facilitate a bereaved dads’ support group and a bereaved parents’ group. We invite parents to our monthly meetings and some parents come every session and some dip in and out. It is important that they know the support is there for them. Among the group there is very much a feeling that they are in it together; they are part of a club that no one ever wants to join.
Being able to offer parents the safe space in which to talk about how they are feeling, and helping them navigate their devastating loss, is a vital part of the service that we offer at Naomi House & Jacksplace and I feel hugely privileged to be part of this.