CMs talks to a bereavement counsellor

Barbara is a trained bereavement counsellor. She set up a bereavement support group in her church and has agreed to answer some questions for us about it. What sort of support are you talking about?

A team of lay people within a church fellowship who visited those in the parish who had been bereaved. There were about 6 on the team and, whenever a funeral was taken by one of the clergy, a card would be left with the bereaved telling them that someone would be in touch soon.

A member of the team would then visit and check whether the person needed any practical help and allow them the opportunity to chat. For some, this was a one-off visit but some people very much appreciated the chance to chat more regularly. Whether it was just one visit or several, it served to show that the church was there to help.

Why do it?

For many, the time of bereavement is a very difficult, lonely time and the funeral may be one of the few times they have any contact with a church in any way. Though the minister of the church can do some of the after care, it is also some thing that can be done by lay people who, frequently, have a little more time available.

Who can do it?

Anyone at all could help out. The group was made up of a mixture of ages, some retired but some still working, with a mixture of backgrounds. There were both men and women. Probably, those involved needed to be able to commit themselves to at least an hour a fortnight but they could do as little or as much as they felt they could.

It is possibly better if the volunteer hasn’t had a bereavement themselves, very recently. It can cause pain talking to others when you are hurting badly yourself, though some cope. Sometimes, if the person being visited said that they didn’t want any help, the volunteer could feel rejected so we had to be aware of that and be ready to cope.

It can be quite a long-term commitment – all friendships are, and this was befriending rather than counselling so didn’t have a set finishing point, though visits became less frequent as time went on. Some of those visited started attending services so made even more friends that way, but volunteers were there to show Christ’s love rather than to convert and fill pews.

What training was needed?

At the time, there were courses in bereavement support run by a local church. Those attending were given some help in understanding bereavement issues and in how to listen and care for others. They were encouraged to befriend rather than to counsel and were given ideas on where to look for further help such as financial help or practical issues should the need arise.

I have also been involved in helping to train a group from another local church who were setting out to do something similar. They were having 6 or 7 evening sessions and, when trained, were hoping to start a group consisting of several of those recently bereaved with some of the church members meeting regularly for coffee in the church. This was a very different approach but also very valuable.

What support did the team get?

This is the bit where I was able to help. Having had a little more training and experience in bereavement work, I was allowed to act as a supervisor to the group, partly coordinating, partly supporting and encouraging. I was also available to advise if there were problems. One can get quite nervous when visiting a stranger, being totally unsure about what sort of reception one might get.

What else can be done?

At Christmas time, the first after the bereavement, each of the families was given a small plant and a card reminding them that the church was thinking and praying for them. It was always very humbling when we realised how much these small gifts were appreciated.

We also held an annual bereavement service and all who had been bereaved during the previous two years were personally invited, in addition to the general invitation given in services and in the local paper. The whole bereavement team were on hand during this service to be available for anyone who needed. Each of these services I was involved in were very well attended with many coming who don’t normally come to church.

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