My story starts as a child, which is a very long time ago now in a land far far away … or so it seemed for many years.
Having grown up with grief and trauma from a very young age, my life was somewhat flipped on its head from the ‘normal’ experiences of bereavement. Death was my companion from the tender age of 18 months when my mother sadly died aged 32. Death took my cousin tragically when I was four, and then my father when I was seven. Yes, death was no stranger, in fact, more a member of the family, and it kept taking people away until I was around 11. This was all normal to me in a strange way, as my earliest memories always consisted of grieving and trauma. Yet through this I always knew love, maybe not security, trust or attachment, but love.
Sport was my friend, which I threw myself into at a very young age; it was my happy place, my release, my family. I grew up in the 70s and death was not something that was spoken about: one must just keep that chin up, man up and dig deep. I grew up thinking I was the only one to go through this and one must never talk about death or feelings. I can’t even imagine saying that to a four-year-old child now! Death was always there, so growing up I just let it walk with me, not realising the impact that it had on me and how it shaped my relationships, decisions, life choices, attachments and my inner core of who I really was.
Counselling was something that Americans did in the movies; it wasn’t something that was talked about in my life. ‘Sectioned’, ‘psychiatric hospitals’, ‘medication’ were all words I had heard growing up, not on a personal level, but most definitely with family members, again just ‘normal’ and almost comical to me as a child. It would be years later that I would encounter the word ‘counselling’ through work. I had navigated my way through life with friends, sport and the foster care system, not all with happy memories, and death stayed with me. But now I had internalised grief with no reaction. I thought this was coping, that I had ‘healed’, that I had fixed myself, that I had moved on.
My career, whether deliberate or subconsciously, took me to working with traumatised children whom society had rejected. It was only then I saw my own inner child and how broken it was. This led me to counselling for myself and I never looked back. It was then that I thought how I would like to help children in bereavement. It is still an area of huge taboo: even now 40 years later, I still hear the same conversations and words used, how adults struggle to find what to say, what to do.
Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland was always in my life. I remember my Aunt going along to support groups when I was only four. She remained close to many friends she made there, giving each other support until she died. I thought I would do some research, and to my surprise, Cruse had been offering support to children and young people for many years. My application was completed at super speed at this stage! Having already completed relevant training to be considered as a volunteer and, of course, armed with my life experience, I submitted my application with high hopes.
That was three years ago, and I’ve not looked back. Volunteering for Cruse has been one of the best things I have ever done. The training is first class, with professionally trained staff who invest in you and guide you through the process with understanding, knowledge, experience, kindness, compassion, empathy, humour, and unconditional positive regard. Cruse follows a person-centred model of counselling with adults, and support is given to children and young people through activities, storytelling, art and crafts, music – in fact anything that helps the child connect. Cruse has been like a family, making me feel a valued part of the team, and the support given to each other is heartfelt. There are ongoing training opportunities, workshops, supervision and seminars available once you begin volunteering.
Through Cruse I have learnt so much about myself and it has instilled confidence, self-esteem, and also qualities and skills that have helped me further my career within Cruse, and helped me in my personal life.
The most important aspect is that I can give back to children and young people, using my own experiences to try to normalise what they are going though – helping them to understand death, grief and trauma, and so helping them to cope with whatever has happened to them.
My hope is that if I can help one child help themselves to get through what is usually the worst thing that will ever happen to them, then that is invaluable for that child. I would have given anything to have had a support worker when I was a child to help me rationalise the grief and to normalise what was going on around me.
The work all the volunteers do within Cruse makes a difference to people’s lives; people who have lost their voices, their hearts, their hopes, and people who are just lost – existing but not living.
I feel humbled, privileged, overwhelmed at times to be able to sit with children and young people through Cruse and hear their voices…