The pain and upset of a close bereavement set Helen Holden on a route towards one of the most fulfilling roles of her life.
Today her passion for her work with Cruse Scotland shines through, even though her clients are often people who have suffered the worst kind of loss.
She is one of the charity’s trauma and ‘high end grief’ expert volunteers, often dealing with families struggling to come to terms with a very sudden or violent loss. “Some grief is what you might term ‘normal grief’,” explains Helen, a retired administrator at Dundee University. “Of course no one would be complacent about any loss. But there can be different issues surrounding the loss of, say, a parent in their 80s and the very sudden loss of a child. “As volunteers we have to gradually build up to a stage where we are working with families who, for example, are going through loss as a result of suicide.” It sounds particularly challenging – especially as Helen has direct experience of what she refers to as a ‘life changing loss’.
Yet she insists she finds the work she does with Cruse Scotland incredibly satisfying. “I love seeing people arrive at a stage where they are coming through their grief. They may enter the session sobbing their heart out and afterwards they are arriving with a big bunch of flowers to say ‘thank you’. “We do the journey together and it’s a humbling experience.”
Helen found herself struggling to come to terms with a major loss in her life when she was in her early 40s. With a busy home and work life, it took time for her to recognise that her feelings were linked to bereavement. “It was around six months later and I just felt I wasn’t right. You get caught up in a lot at that age, between home and work and it can hard to see exactly why you feel the way you do,” she says. With the help of her local minister and church friends, Helen worked through her feelings. It prompted her to set up a small church group to help others deal with bereavement which, in turn, led her to join a Cruse Scotland training course. “It was excellent. I really connected with people. At the end of the training, someone suggested I might like to give some time back to Cruse Scotland – and it felt like the natural thing to do.”
That was in March 1996. Since then Helen, one of around 350 Cruse Scotland volunteers, has helped hundreds of people through grief and loss. “Even a ‘normal’ bereavement can be different for different people,” she says. “I have now dealt with every type of bereavement, every single one is different. “It can be hard when the loss involves a young person or the circumstances are particularly tragic, but we have excellent training and support.”
Volunteers have the support of supervisors like Helen to talk through complex and challenging cases in confidence. And they are taught techniques to help them deal with what could be distressing conversations with relatives as they journey through their grief.
“Cruse Scotland is a great charity to work with,” she adds. “As well as regular training, we are supported all the way through in all we do. “
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