Hospice volunteer reaches out to 325 bereaved people during lockdown
- Credit: NDH
The loneliness felt during this year of lockdown has been difficult enough for most people to deal with, but it has been even harder for those who have lost someone they love and have had to deal with it in isolation.
However, a volunteer from North Devon Hospice has been making a real difference, by reaching out to support an incredible total of 325 local bereaved people since the start of lockdown in March 2020.
North Devon Hospice cares for patients and families dealing with an incurable illness, and Colin Ford has been giving his time to help these people for nearly three years. A trained counsellor with a background in the probation service, Colin’s role is to contact those local people who have lost a loved one, to offer support and counselling. This vital outreach has been more important than ever during this last year.
“I call people to check in and see how they are,” said Colin. “I’ll simply start by saying ‘I’m Colin, a member of the bereavement team at North Devon Hospice and am ringing to see how you’re doing, how you’re coping and whether we can be of any help.’ People think it’s wonderful that someone is reaching out to them, and they often fondly remember the care provided by the hospice to their loved one.”
He added: “The responses obviously vary. Some people cry, which is understandable. Perhaps they aren’t coping very well or haven’t got much support around them. Even if they have got close friends and family, they might not want to worry them, so it’s beneficial to talk to someone outside the family. Even though the calls can sometimes be very tough, I do feel incredibly supported by the bereavement team at the hospice, so there is support for me as well.”
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Many people that Colin contacts are referred on to the hospice’s bereavement team for a series of counselling sessions, while others may be content with just their call from Colin.
“No matter what we talk about, I always stress that bereavement is a long-term thing with lots of ups and downs, and if they ever go through a bad period down the line, they can always reach out and we’ll be there to help,” said Colin.
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“Even for those who say they don’t need formal counselling at the moment, we still have very useful and reassuring conversations. Recently, one person started by saying ‘I’m not much of a talker’, but then 30 minutes later we were still nattering away, which was fantastic and he got a lot from it.”
One of the main points Colin tries to reinforce to all who he contacts, is that how they’re feeling is not unusual. “I provide reassurance that grief is normal. What they are feeling and how they are behaving is normal during grief. Even if they don’t need further support from us, they know it is perfectly OK to be going through the stages of grief and dealing with it in their own way.”
Since the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020, there has been a 37% rise in people being supported by hospices up and down the country. This has also been reflected by a rise in bereaved people that Colin has needed to reach out to, while the myth that those who receive hospice support are all older has also been disproved. “The majority of people who get referred for counselling are between 30 and 60, who have perhaps lost their spouse before their time and are struggling to cope. For example, I’m currently counselling four different women in their 50s who have lost loved ones prematurely, and understandably life feels pretty unfair to them right now. But is it nice to help them to move on, and that is part of the grieving process.”
Like everyone, Colin has had his own struggles during lockdown, including not being able to visit his children and grandchildren for over a year.
“This latest stage of lockdown has felt harder for some reason, and I hope that it won’t be long before I get to see my daughters and grandchildren again” he said. “But my phone calls for the hospice have helped give me a sense of structure and purpose in lockdown. It has helped me, and it’s been nice to communicate with people and feel like you’re doing something useful.”
After helping to support a staggering 325 bereaved people since the start of lockdown, Colin has got no plans to slow down or put his feet up once restrictions begin to ease. “I am looking forward to getting back to my other volunteer duties for the hospice,” he said.
“I drive people to their appointments, help to host wellbeing days at the hospice’s Long House building in Holsworthy, and also do some respite sitting with patients who are being cared for in their own homes. Of course, in my own world, I’m just looking forward to the freedom of being able to pop up to London to visit my family, or even just go for a nice drive and a pub lunch.”
After providing such incredible assistance to so many people, who have been going through the toughest times during the last year, Colin deserves a good pub lunch and much, much more.
To find out more about the support provided by North Devon Hospice, please visit northdevonhospice.org.uk or call 01271 344248.