By Patricia McCrossan – Head of Patient and Family Support and Rhonda Culshaw – Bereavement Service Coordinator.
“Take one step at a time” is a well-worn sentiment for growth, recovery, and grief. It also has a literal meaning for North London Hospice’s Walk and Talk Bereavement Group every Wednesday – and never more so than during the last two years of the pandemic.
Resilience during difficult times
The challenges of 2020 and 2021 stretched most of us to the limit, particularly those who were bereaved. The many restrictions took their toll. People were unable to spend time with loved ones that were dying or hold the funerals they would have wanted. Elbow bumps never replaced hugs and live streams were no substitute for being together in person. However, resilience was evident, and people did the best they could in the circumstances.
The North London Hospice bereavement team, supported by our social workers, did what we could too, providing telephone or video conferencing calls, sending out bereavement packs and adding a perpetual candle to our website, shining in memory of all those who died, or marked anniversaries.
One aspect of the service that went the extra mile was the bereavement Walk and Talk Group. Facilitated by three dedicated volunteers, Russell, Bob and Claire, they kept up-to-date and responded to changing guidelines creatively. As soon as the rule of six was introduced, they formulated a plan of action to restart the weekly Wednesday walks for the bereaved relatives, friends and carers of our patients who come together in a supportive environment for a stroll, a chat and a coffee with others at various stages of grief. With face-to-face contact limited across the country, these walks became more important than ever to many.
We engaged in risk assessments, discussions with staff at local parks across Barnet, whom we assured we had plans to minimise risks and maximise safety. The individual volunteers, described by one group member as “a kind reassuring presence” were at specific starting points to make sure that each group of six walked separately and refreshments were taken outside, again in small groups. Despite understandable anxiety by some, the groups continued to be well attended and took place weekly. Those unable to attend were still supported by the group and nobody coped alone when times felt tough. Many of the group members also choose to connect outside the walk and talk session and have been a great support to each other.
Walking through the journey together
Two other members of the group sum up the experience of many perfectly: “I have made so many friends through this group. It breaks down the isolation often felt when losing a loved one.” and “We are there for each other. We know everyone will have bad days, but we listen and support those that need it.”
This is such an amazing achievement and correlates with the core values of the service, recognising that authentic human understanding has a worth beyond measure, and is not exclusively achieved within the confines of counselling or one-to-one contact. Having access to others who have had a similar shared experience, want to listen, and try to understand, without judgement, is a great gift to offer someone.
Feedback from those who are part of the group is amazing and highlights how much humour, laughter and tears are ever present echoing our message “We are for here for you, in a way that is meaningful to you.” The group members don’t have to talk exclusively about their bereavement, and there are no limitations regarding how long they can attend, as those further along their bereavement journey naturally inspire others.
The group have developed something special, welcome new members and many have become good friends. However, all will agree the jewel in the crown is the dedication and commitment of the volunteers who continue to sustain the group, despite the weather and global pandemics!
Thanks to a fourth dedicated volunteer, Pat, we have also begun to establish a monthly Walk and Talk Group in the Enfield area. New volunteers recruited this year will also support ensure the groups are available to more people and remain a key element of our bereavement service.
Get in touch
Currently our groups are available to the friends, families and carers of patients cared for by North London Hospice. If you would like to attend one of our groups, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.