One of the people who has played a huge part in helping me along the journey of bereavement is Marion, my CRUSE counsellor. I am very grateful to her for everything she has done so far. Quite symbolically, Marion will be cycling alongside me on the final leg home from Portsmouth to Alton.
CRUSE do a fantastic job but rely heavily on charitable donations. We asked Marion to answer a few questions to explain all about the invaluable work that CRUSE do ...
How long have you been a Cruse counsellor and how did you get involved?
I have volunteered with Cruse now for five and a half years. I first became interested in counselling in 2008. I had been working self employed for over 25 years and felt that I wanted to find a new direction and do something for me. I enrolled on an 8 week counselling taster course. I worked and studied hard and enjoyed every minute, this lead to me doing a year counselling course at Eastleigh College, it was during this time I realised that I wanted to specialise in Bereavement area. I had experienced many deaths of family and friends and felt this is where I could be useful.
On completing my course at Eastleigh, I started looking for an opening in bereavement. I found Cruse, enrolled on Awareness in Bereavement Care and successfully finished the training and final interview, gaining my place as an authorised Cruse volunteer.
So what happens after you’ve trained to be a counsellor?
It is very important within Cruse to continue attending ongoing training, sessions are organised locally, some are evenings, others are half or full days. This is a great time to meet up with other volunteers and catch up. This year I have attended all local courses and I managed to self fund going to the two day annual Cruse Conference held at Warwick University, this is a great learning experience including seminars and workshops. I am committed to my personal development and keeping my bereavement skills updated.
Who can Cruse help?
Anybody and everybody, as many men as women ask for our help. Some call the office very soon after bereavement, others don’t call for several months or even years. Some people cope by returning to work, trying to keep themselves busy which can help dull the intense pain for a time. Some people are prescribed anti-depressants to help them cope with what is going on - raw emotions, exhaustion and finding their world has been turned upside down; they don’t know which way to turn. Our job is to ‘walk’ beside them, slowly helping them to see through the ‘fog’, taking small steps and one day at a time. Yes, talking really does help.
Can’t they just talk to family or friends?
Talking to family and friends can be very difficult because everyone around us is also grieving and in pain, and we often do not want to upset them more. Sometimes friends can be there for the first few weeks, then they return to their lives and can quickly forget you are still grieving. We are often the first person who hears the whole story, often in the minutest detail reliving some very painful moments, over and over again. We are trained in our listening skills an area which really helps people.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Working with people on a one to one basis, means that everything is down to you. Some people want an instant fix and for us to be able to give them a time scale on when they will feel less pain. Every case we take on is different, if someone's story is very difficult, that is where Cruse supervisors are there to help us. Supervisors are there to advise, aid self development and keep a watchful eye out for us, remind us of the rules, regulations and boundaries. Our work with individuals is completely confidential; a supervisor is somebody who can be contacted if you need to download any anxieties regarding a case. Safety is a priority for the bereaved and ourselves.
Cruse relies on donations to be able to offer their great service. This is difficult as there are many charities in the same situation. We always need new volunteers to enrol on the training courses. In South Hants we have a few volunteers to run the office, take calls from people, deal with paperwork, allocate people for assessments and do a host of behind-the-scenes chores. If we received more donations, it would be great to be able to have a paid person in the office so that the phone is answered more often. People sometimes have to leave an answer phone message. With limited volunteers, it does mean sometimes that people have a long wait to see somebody.
What type of volunteer roles are there?
We have the office that needs to staffed, we have supervisors, trainers, assessors and counsellors. I do both the one 2 one counselling and assessments. After someone phones in to the office leaving their details, an office volunteer will phone them back taking all the necessary basic information. It is then allocated to an assessor to visit them usually in their home or if requested they can be seen in the Southampton office (not always that convenient for people not living nearby). The assessment is to talk about the person's needs, who has died, the circumstances, the family situation, how they are, what they want from Cruse and to assess the location etc for the volunteer who will be visiting doing the one 2 one. Again safety is highlighted on this visit, how is the journey, parking, street lighting (for night visits) are there pets etc. The assessment will take an hour, during that time you are hearing that person's story and building a picture of what is needed and how things really are for them. It is down to the assessor to decide if Cruse is relevant and how urgent their case is.
So what happens in a one to one session?
On a first visit, it is important to build a rapport with the bereaved and to give them time to tell their story; in the early stages of one to one people are usually visited weekly. Always working towards a time when they can cope and manage on their own. The length of time we are with an individual can depend on how the person they lost has died. Everyone has a different need and no two cases are the same.
Bereavement is like a journey never experienced before. There is no preparation, no bag packed, no ticket purchased, no plan, no route to take.. You could be taking this journey totally alone with no idea where or what has happened or about to happen, nobody gives you a ‘map’.
Grief can be a very heavy burden to carry; I talk to people about having a large rucksack on their backs - you wake up in the morning and struggle to get out of bed, manage to get dressed and then put the rucksack on, heavy with bricks of grief. Grief can be exhausting. We talk through what each brick represents and gradually empty this heavy load. It is rewarding to help people on their journey, walking beside them, then they are not alone. As the rucksack is unloaded the weight lessens, they appear to have more energy and are then more able to take on the coping mechanisms that we are slowly encouraging them to use.
Do you have to pay to see a Cruse Volunteer counsellor?
There is no fee charged for the time spent with your volunteer counsellor but Cruse is a Charitable organisation and relies on donations to be able to offer this invaluable service to who ever asks for it. All Cruse volunteers fund their own training and development, having more donations would allow some training to be paid for.
The fund raising that Dave and Lotte are doing through the daisy trail cycle will be very much appreciated and will also have got the Cruse name out to more people. Bereavement is not an on every day topic for most people and it is not until a death occurs that some people do not know where to turn.
Due to NHS funding cuts, the counselling offered at most doctors surgery’s until a couple of years ago has almost disappeared. Meaning that if a patient visiting the doctor mentions grief, they are sign posted to Cruse, therefore our workload has increased and unfortunately there is often quite a waiting list for people to be seen. Maybe I am hoping this will be a great opportunity to put the Cruse name out and invite more people to volunteer with and join us.
What do you enjoy most about your role as a counsellor?
We have a great team working at Cruse South Hants, making new friends, learning great skills; we support and encourage each other. The most rewarding however is to witness the person that you have been working through in their darkest of times, slowly gain energy and emerge from their grief tunnel and pick up some of the threads of their life. It may never be the same but they can will now cope with the not so good days. No case is ever the same, but for each person we take on, we join them on their journey and can be with them, We are not there to fix the situation but to help them understand all that they are going through and provide support.
If you are interested in becoming a Cruse volunteer you can find out more at: www.cruse.org.uk.
If you recognise yourself or know somebody who would benefit from contacting Cruse, the above web site will help sign post you to a Cruse office in your location OR phone 08448793448 for South Hampshire Branch.