Fiona Turnbull, Senior Counsellor in the Patient and Family Support team at Trinity, explains how the pandemic has affected bereaved people and the way we support them.

I truly believe grief is one of the hardest experiences we can ever go through as human beings.

Many bereaved people have told us how the pandemic has made it immeasurably harder for them to grieve. It’s not an overstatement to say that the pandemic has had a seismic impact on people’s experience of bereavement.

I’m privileged to be part of the Patient and Family Support team here at Trinity. As counsellors and social workers, it’s our role to offer specialist emotional and psychological support to patients through their illness and to family and friends both before and after the death of a loved one.

Since March, we’ve witnessed first-hand just how vital Trinity’s bereavement service is to people who are grieving. We’ve seen an increase in the number of people coming forward for bereavement support.

Many of them are experiencing deep distress, trauma and profound psychological and emotional challenges, whether their loved one died from COVID-19 or from their existing illness.

Personally, I’ve really missed being able to sit down in person with my clients. I’m so glad, though, that we can continue to offer the service and make a positive difference when more people than ever are experiencing such complex challenges.

The free weekly counselling sessions we offer are a safe place for people to express their unique grief in all its different shades with the support of a dedicated counsellor from the team or one of our incredible trained bereavement support volunteers.

These sessions are all the more important when the world has been turned upside down. So many of the routines and activities that would offer a lifeline to help people slowly adjust after a loss are no longer there. At times, simple distractions like going for a swim, meeting a friend for coffee or attending a place of worship have been impossible. It’s heart-breaking how the ongoing restrictions continue to severely limit human contact, at a time when many bereaved people yearn to be surrounded by the people they love and simply to be held and hugged.

How people grieve can be shaped both by how their loved one lived the final part of their life as well as how they died. Many people we’ve been counselling are telling us how the final months of their loved ones’ lives were fraught with anxiety and uncertainty, for example about catching COVID-19 or changes to hospital treatment. They’re sharing how the restrictions and the need to shield massively impacted on their time together and made it so much harder to do things they enjoy or fulfil their final wishes. Then there’s the agony of difficult but necessary restrictions on visiting their loved ones during their illness and sometimes even when they died, or not being able to have the funeral they wanted.

During these difficult times, I do see rays of light and I remain hopeful. I’ve supported bereaved people who have discovered depths of resilience they never knew they had or were able to enjoy precious family time in spite of the challenges. I’ve been touched by the empathy bereaved people express for others. And I know I’ve been able to do my job thanks to the tremendous support of my amazing colleagues in the Patient and Family Support team and others working on the front line here at Trinity.

Please support Trinity during this difficult time so we can be there for our patients and deliver bereavement support for their loved ones. Limited by lockdowns and social distancing measures, bereaved people need us more than ever.
This year we have had to work even harder to make sure those experiencing a loss received our support. 

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