Tynedale Hospice at Home’s Family Support Service provides a lifeline to adults who are experiencing bereavement. Demand for the service is growing all the time, with 112 adults receiving support in the last year. We have 23 trained volunteers who work with the Family Support team to provide one to one pre and post bereavement support.

“One of the most surprising things I have learned is the diversity of people’s experience and the many ways grief affects people is phenomenal. There is no fixed pattern or plan when it comes to bereavement.”

These are the words of Family Support volunteer Mary Jane Mitchell who has volunteered for Tynedale Hospice at Home for five years.

“Before I had even seen my first client, the training I undertook to prepare me for this role taught me this, and the learning process continues with each new encounter. Everyone is different and the circumstances around each bereavement varies so much but one thing is certain, seeking help and support when it’s needed, at the right time, can be a lifeline.”

Mary Jane first heard about Tynedale Hospice at Home when her mother was being looked after by the Nursing Care team in the final days of her life. “I knew then that I wanted to give something back to say thank you for the incredible support they provided to her and my family and the Family Support Service really appealed.

“I spent the majority of my career in Human Resources in the NHS, and working with people and being a good listener are essential skills for this role. But I grew up listening too. My dad was a vicar and I regularly used to accompany him on his parish visits and would spend a lot of time sitting quietly whilst his parishioners shared their worries with him. Listening and keeping confidences were, and are essential.”

Listening is at the heart of the Family Support Service. Volunteers don’t offer advice or suggest ways that people can tackle their grief. Instead they provide the space, and sometimes the silence, while clients explore their feelings for themselves.

“Without doubt the most important skill is listening, and just being there is often enough, but having empathy is vital too,” continues Mary Jane. “In my experience, once you have established a relationship with someone the sessions shape themselves. I leave it up to the client to take the conversation in the direction they want and what they want to share.

“I can’t pretend it’s not hard. Everyone’s experience is tragic and emotions are so raw. It can be challenging emotionally but the team at the Hospice provide one to one support for all the volunteers. Additionally, the ‘family’ of volunteers share mutual support and friendship.

“To be able to help at a very difficult time in someone’s life and for them to be so honest and open with you about how they are feeling is a privilege. Witnessing them start to rebuild and find a new way of coping is so rewarding.

“We often talk about “walking around the hole of grief” and this sums it up beautifully. We aim to support people to a point where they feel they can begin to shape a different life, whilst acknowledging that the grief will always be part of it and will shape who they are. To be part of this is one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done.”