Coronavirus: How Saint Francis Hospice has been counselling the bereaved during lockdown

Shahina Haque, is the family support services manager at Saint Francis Hospice. Picture: Saint Franc

Shahina Haque, is the family support services manager at Saint Francis Hospice. Picture: Saint Francis Hospice - Credit: Archant

Shahina Haque, family support services manager at Saint Francis Hospice, explains the impact of Covid-19 on the bereavement support service

During this pandemic, bereavement support has become more than ever a vital service.

We have people who we were supporting pre Covid-19, pre lockdown and continue to rely on the support mechanisms in place.

And sadly people are still dying of non-Covid related deaths, and they leave behind loved ones who are having to survive this.

As the situation with the virus grew more serious by the day, I was increasingly aware of the demands that would be placed on my team and on the services with family support and pastoral care.

Since March 23 all one-to-one counselling, groups and face-to-face assessments have been cancelled.

Our volunteer bereavement counsellors are an essential part of the team and have quietly transitioned and have been getting on with working from their homes, ensuring that confidentially is adhered to at all times.

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They, too, have their own worries and, like us, are juggling personal lives. But when it comes to their clients, their passion to support those in need is paramount.

It is not easy on the senses or the soul to hear, see and hold someone’s grief.

To hear this over the telephone and not be able to show compassion visibly has been a challenge that the counsellors are overcoming and working differently to ensure that their clients are heard, understood, acknowledged and seen, not through our eyes but through our being. Their grief is real and we acknowledge and respect their loss, and the death of their loved one.

I have been amazed and proud of all of them, their acceptance and ‘call to arms’.

Now, 12 weeks since lockdown, the counsellors are thriving in confidence and ability and we are continuing to receive bereavement referrals and conducting assessments and allocating clients to our counsellors.

And being there for people who desperately need support is incredibly rewarding, as Peter, one of our newly qualified counsellors says, “As a volunteer with Saint Francis Hospice, I am truly blessed being there for individuals who need that contact in times of loss and despair and loneliness.

“I am there to listen and support with no judging, no advice, just helping them to get through it together. To say it is rewarding would be an understatement.”

Their clients are grateful for the support and the work is not necessarily about Covid-19, it’s about their grief, their loss and their bereavement.

Here clients are using the session to let their emotions out. People have had to hold their grief, still waiting for the funeral and some not able to go and see their loved ones.

We can only imagine the trauma that this is causing them.

Many of our young people whose parent has died are traumatised by not being able to see their mother or father and not have the funeral they deserve, not to be able to celebrate their life as they see fitting.

We are supporting parents whose adult child has died and regardless of the age of the person, no parent should bury their child.

Not to be able to have the last moments to make memories and hold them, has been heart-breaking to hear.