How the bereaved are helped to deal with their loss

The death of a loved one can have a long-term impact. But specialist support groups are making a difference


Rachel was 25 with a six-week-old son when her father died suddenly.

“It was a very traumatising time” the North-West Londoner recalls. “I was a new mum, which was hard enough. But losing my father at the same time was nearly impossible to cope with.”

She found it difficult to grieve and did not want to trouble family members who were also dealing with the impact of the loss. Her husband had not suffered a similar bereavement and she felt alone with no one to confide in.

“I was very emotional. People all grieve very differently and I felt under pressure to be the best mum I could be to my baby and to not let my grief get in the way.”

Rachel is one of many in the community who, struggling to come to terms with the death of a loved one, have turned for support to a specialist group.

In her case, she contacted Jewish Care’s Jewish Bereavement Counselling Service. She was initially unsure if it would be right for her — “I’m quite frum and was worried it wouldn’t be appropriate. But they told me their sessions were for everyone and to just come along and see how I liked it.”

Rachel, now 28, attended its Butterflies group, a counselling service for young mums and dads.

She went to monthly meetings at which members discussed their loss and received support from trained counsellors. “I found it hard at first because most people in the group had lost a mother,” she reflects. “But there was so much that I needed to get off my chest.

“You could share in the feeling of being robbed of your parent. We all could relate to the sadness we felt that our lost one would never see our children walk or say their first words.”

She also found the one-to-one counselling set up by the JBCS “hugely beneficial. I just wanted someone to listen to me. I found it hard to draw the line between being a new mum and dealing with the loss of my dad.

“It was somewhere I could get my emotions out and it helped me to be there for my son as well.”

Butterflies co-ordinator Marilyn Paul says the youngest person to have attended the group was a 20-year-old mum mourning her own mother.

“Some have lost their parents recently — some lost them when they were younger. But they are all going through the experience of having a baby without their lost parent’s support.

“They haven’t got a mum to ask ‘what was I like as a baby’? or ‘how should I do the feeding’?’ or ‘what are your tips’?

“Seeing their friends with their mums and grandmas can be challenging for them. It brings up new grief.”

The group is one of four the JBCS runs. Others include Aftershock, supporting bereaved young adults.

Stepping Stones helps people aged between 40 and 60 who have lost a partner and its Stronger Together group assists widows and widowers aged 60 or above.

“We welcome people across the spectrum of religiosity,” Ms Paul stresses.

“People have this common thing, the grief, and you’ll find that feeling breaks down all barriers.”

Rachel was able to attend the Butterflies sessions with her baby because a crèche was provided.

“Being able to come with your children adds a sense of security,” Ms Paul adds.

The biggest barrier to getting other people to make contact is “they don’t know we are out there.

“Everyone needs help getting over a loss and there should be no shame in that.”

For Cathy, 53, attending Butterflies was also a godsend as she would have struggled to afford counselling elsewhere. “You pay £5, which is nothing compared to expensive therapy. It wouldn’t have been affordable for me otherwise and I would have had nowhere to turn.

“I had just turned 52 and my daughter was six when I lost my mother. The enormity of the situation was very hard for me. I still get very upset talking about it now,” she adds, her voice breaking.

“Hearing about other people’s experiences made it feel like I wasn’t alone. I found that hearing my mother’s voice on old videos and seeing her in pictures was very comforting.

“Another woman in the group said she found those things too painful. But by sharing our experiences, she was able to see it might be something she could find comfort in.”

Cathy would “recommend it to anyone. Not everyone is lucky enough to have such a great resource available to them.”

Adele Wieder is the counsellor who runs After Shock,which is aimed at bereaved 18-30-year-olds.

“They experience a change of role in the family,” she says. “They often step into the role of the parent to support the other parent and keep them from being lonely.

“They worry about things such as putting their life on hold. They feel guilty about leaving the parent who is still alive.

“We help them come to terms with their parent not being there for important life events.

“The group is there to help them deal with the shock of it. They can talk to other people about how they are coping and share tips with each other. That can be really useful.”

It costs around £90,000 annually to operate the JBCS, which has provided many thousands of hours of counselling during its 35-year history. Although clients are asked to make a voluntary contribution towards counselling, no one is turned away. Where appropriate, it refers the grief-stricken to other services.

Neil Taylor, Jewish Care’s director of community services, says its helpline receives an “increasing number of calls that relate to grief and bereavement.

“As an organisation, we are supporting more and more people to help them cope with an end of life diagnosis. Our community support and social work team also supports relatives and friends around end of life and bereavement.”

Among support groups outside the capital is the All Age Service run by The Fed, the Manchester community’s major welfare provider.

Bernie Garner, director of community services, says loss has practical as well as emotional implications for the bereaved.

“We will provide practical online support for those in need and assist those in receipt of pension credit to apply for help with the funeral costs if they need it. We will also help people with a benefit review following the loss of a partner, which may impact upon their income.”

Beth, 70, was allocated a befriending volunteer by The Fed following the death of her long-term partner.

“She lost a close friend at the same time,” Mr Garner adds.

“She had no local family support and due to her role as carer for her partner, she had found it challenging to maintain any close friendships.

“Beth had said she couldn’t go on any longer. She was on anti-depressants.

“But over a period of time, she felt that she had moved on and wanted to become a volunteer herself.

“She now volunteers regularly in a variety of roles including a coffee morning and weekly mental health drop-in sessions.

“Volunteering has relieved her social isolation and supported her through a challenging period in her life,” Mr Garner says.

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