“Volunteering is good for you. It’s good for the community and it makes a difference to other people. And that’s why I’d encourage anybody to do it.” Neena’s desire to help other people is what led her to volunteering as a bereavement worker at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice. For Hospice Care Week, Neena told us more about her role and how she loves the positive impact she has on the people she supports. 

I became a bereavement worker at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice around ten years ago now, after doing a course in counselling skills. I was looking to put my academic knowledge into practice when I stumbled across this role, so I was thrilled when just a few weeks later I was accepted! Myself and a few other new recruits had a week of excellent training and although it was intense, I learned so many new skills. It also gave me that extra confidence to start supporting clients on a one-to-one basis.   

In my role, support is offered to patients accessing the services at Birmingham St Mary’s as well as their families. We work with people to support them through to the end and support grieving adults and children thereafter. Grief is such a complex thing; it’s layer upon layer of different losses and different issues, so I make sure that my sessions are tailored uniquely to each person and if preferred, held in their own homes.

Something that I think is truly great about the Hospice is that we don’t have a time limit on how long we support somebody. It’s perfectly fine if someone only wants to see me for a few sessions but equally fine if they need to be supported for longer. People can even come back once they’ve finished their counselling and be referred again if they need to access the service. This allows people to take their time in coming to terms with their grief – it means we go at their pace.

It’s also essential that the clients I support know they can trust me so I can build a therapeutic relationship. They need to feel like they’re in a ‘safe space’ so that they can talk about everything that’s impacting on them and open up boxes they’ve kept hidden away for so long. We work together to head towards closure, developing tools and coping strategies in the process.

Sometimes, people might come in and feel so overwhelmed that they struggle to talk, and I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve thought ‘I don’t know what to do with this person’. But you can always make a positive change together no matter what. We have lots of tools that help people to cope with their grief, many of them to do with the senses – be it music, visualisation, activities or visual aids. What’s great is that we build and develop these tools together, so that when clients feel they no longer need sessions they are still armed with techniques to help them deal with difficult and upsetting times. That’s the thing with grief – it’s a process and the effects stay with you but you can learn ways to cope with it.

One of my favourite memories was creating a visual tool with a client I was supporting. At the end of our sessions, I rolled it up and tied it with a ribbon – it felt like I was giving them a graduation certificate. It meant so much to both of us. Without it, she probably wouldn’t have been able to let go of the sessions. With it, we both knew she was going to be alright.

That’s what I love about volunteering here. I gain so much satisfaction in seeing the change in people. When you start with someone who can’t leave their own home – someone who’s not functioning and can’t see a future for themselves – it’s amazing when they finally can. For some people it’s just giving them that little bit of light. That’s what I get from it and that’s why I do it.

I still feel like I’m learning – I’m sure I always will and so will my peers. It definitely helps that we have regular supervision and peer meetings once a month and it’s a privilege to be part of such a lovely group. Everyone is always ready to support each other. Even when I retire, I would really love to keep volunteering and I guarantee most people find that once they start with Birmingham St Mary’s, they stay and make a difference too.

Thank you Neena for sharing your story with us! Hospice Care Week is a national week of celebration and action, which aims to get people talking about and change perceptions on hospice care.

If you want to find out more about the bereavement service we offer, please take a look here. Or, if you feel inspired by Neena to volunteer yourself, please take a look at our current opportunities here.