Friday, 26 September 2014

Sally helps in the Bereavement Support Group!

The university staff have been so kind to me that I didn’t feel that I could say no when I was asked to attend the first meeting of the new season of the Bereavement Support Group. Not as a client but as one of the experts!  

There were supposed to be 5 first years coming along as part of their induction offer but only 4 of them arrived so I don’t know anything about one lad. Two of the other four had been raised by a single parent who then had died when the student was still at school.  The other 2 had lost one parent each but still had one left – the parents had died through illness or accident. 

It sounds rather disloyal to say this but I didn’t think that the University Chaplain who hosted this first meeting had given enough (any?) thought as to what the students were thinking or feeling. I don’t imagine that he had the slightest idea if any or all of them were active, or even passive, Christians before launching into an opening prayer. You get one chance to make a first impression and I think he flopped fairly spectacularly. 

Most of the meeting was quite informal. My only solo contribution was telling the new under graduates a little bit about my history. So now they all know that I have something in common with them and that I am talking from first-hand experience about losing a parent – or in my case losing both! The two boys found it harder to express their emotions than the girls and I think that stupid belief that “real men don’t cry” does so much damage in cases like this. 

One of the girls reminded me of how I must have been three years ago. Rather battered around the edges and still having to struggle to get through the dark days that used to arrive without warning. It was something in her eyes that was the most poignant part of how she looked. I could tell that she was looking for friendship with a “like minded” person but I know, believe me I know, that she needs to find her day-to-day support and companionship with people on her course or people who share her outside interests. A post-graduate PGCE student isn’t really what she needs at the moment. 

After the meeting had ended and the students had left the volunteers and the group co-ordinator had a 15 minute de-brief. We all agreed that we would not want the Chaplain, who had already left, to attend future meetings. I’m pleased that I did agree to take part in the group and I think I will continue to attend the regular sessions.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Two voices from the past.

I have been told by lots of different people that on the phone I sound like my (deceased) Mother so I wasn’t altogether surprised when having said nothing apart from my phone number a lady called Sian launched into a “its been far too long conversation” thinking that she was talking to my Mum who had been on the same course as her at university.

It was quite embarrassing to have to stop her in mid-flow to say, “No this is Sally, her daughter” followed by, “I’m afraid she died 4 years ago.” Of course it was difficult for Sian as well partly because it showed how long it had been since she had last been in touch and partly because, like most people, she found talking to a bereaved person to be an uncomfortable experience.

Despite this awkward start we had a 20 minute chat and I learned a few things about Mum’s university days that I didn’t know before. It seems as if the last time Sian and my Mum spoke was about three months before the accident. Sian was surprised that there hadn’t been any mention of the accident in the old student’s newsletter but the reason for this was simple – I hadn’t thought to send any notification to the editor. Sian has now offered to do this.

When people die there is an almost unending list of people and organisations that have to be told and so the less urgent or less important ones tend to get overlooked.

Two days later I got a phone call from my former lodger. We shared the house when I was still at school (yes, that long ago!) so I was very surprised to hear from her. At first having her living in my house had worked really well but she didn’t live to the promises she made when she moved in. She had long spells of working away and she didn’t give me much notice when she moved to Belfast. She paid all the money she owed me so that wasn’t the problem but it was only a few days between her telling me the sad news and her leaving me for good. She sent me a three line note when she started her new job and that was the last time I ever heard from her until this week. I did feel that I had been rather exploited by her and that perhaps she wasn’t always totally candid with me so I wasn’t altogether sorry that I didn’t have a spare room for her to rent!

It has felt strange looking backwards twice in quick succession. When bereavement strikes you have to discipline yourself to keep looking forward – you would never get through the nastiness otherwise – so interacting with people from the past still feels rather strange.