Bereavement – turning sadness into something positive

The shock of losing a loved one will always leave scars – but, in the case of a long term illness, skilled counselling can bring positive outcomes for grieving families. 

With just a year to live, a young mum wanted to prepare her family for the inevitable end.

“Mum had been ill for about six years before she died from cancer aged 43,” explains daughter Lydia Harmer, now aged 18. She was 15 when she lost her mum, sister Tegan just 12.

“Mum came to Priscilla Bacon Lodge as an out-patient about a year before she died and took advantage of the psychological counselling available. Then she got us ready for what was to come.”

The Lodge, a specialist palliative care centre in Norwich, includes a Psychological Service Team offering counselling for patients with life-limiting illnesses – and, crucially, also for their families.

The team plays a key role in the care of patients and their families at any time – from diagnosis, while they are living with a life-limiting illness and during end-of-life care. The support also extends to children, young people, adults, couples, and whole families during bereavement.

Tracey Dryhurst, who leads the psychological team, provided by Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, explains: “As a patient moves through the journey towards the end of their life, we support them and their relatives.

“We help families to acknowledge the situation, communicating feelings in a way that’s positive and which can be used when bereavement comes. We look at all elements of loss as the illness develops.”

Not everyone wants to burden their families with the sadness of the forthcoming loss, and this is respected by the small counselling team of five, which includes the chaplain. However, for those who choose to use the service, it is available for families before and after the death.

“We are about building a trusting relationship, to acknowledge the reality and work with the family – especially the children in the case of bereaved young families. Afterwards, children often tell me that they wanted to be included,” says Tracey.

“Sadness can help people to connect.”

Lydia admits that she found it hard to come to terms with the death of her mother Sarah, failing to cope with the loss as well as her father Rod and sister Tegan.

“I came to see Tracey for about a year after mum died, sometimes with dad, sometimes with my sister,” she says. “I felt it was a place I could come and talk about mum.”

“I was so grateful for the support the team gave my mum. They were incredibly kind in the way that they listened to her fears and helped her and the rest of the family come to terms with her illness.”

“The counselling I received after my mum died was so useful to me. I was only 15 at the time and it helped me to cope with this incredibly sad reality.”

Today Lydia is a confident young woman, doing well in her job as an apprentice consultant with Hays Travel, based in Aylsham, near the family home in North Walsham.

She is also bringing her hard-earned positivity to support the new Priscilla Bacon Hospice appeal, which aims to raise £12.5 million to build a new state-of-the-art 24-bed unit on a semi-rural site near the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. The appeal now stands at around £4 million.

Norfolk needs 47-59 specialist palliative care beds, but has just 16 – all in the 40-year-old Priscilla Bacon Lodge. Ever-increasing demand for inpatient beds as well as day and respite care means that greater capacity is desperately needed.

The new hospice will offer the most modern facilities, plus a wider range of community day care and out-patient services, giving those who require care a greater breadth of choice.

On 27th October, Lydia, her colleagues and general supporters helped to raise money towards the appeal with a boogie bounce on mini trampolines at North Walsham Sports Centre. The money raised will be used to buy specific equipment for the family counselling room at the new Priscilla Bacon Hospice.

“We’re so proud of Lydia,” says Tracey. “She’s come through a lot and is now giving back through this fundraiser.

“At the end of the day, we can’t change a sad situation, but hopefully we can make the time left into something positive.”