In February 2019, we launched our Bereavement Café service here at St Clare Hospice. Barbara and Wendy both attended our first Café on Friday 15th Feb, and since that day have seen their friendship blossom and grow together…
Barbara: “I first found out about the Bereavement Café at St Clare, when I visited my GP in February 2019. I was looking to get some counselling or support after losing my husband, Peter. I was in a really dark place at the time – I didn’t want to go out; I didn’t want to stay in the house. I felt like I couldn’t stop crying!
“When my GP told me about the Bereavement Café that St Clare was running, I thought I’d give it a go, but never did I expect to make a friend like Wendy there.
“So, on Friday 15th February 2019, I attended the first-ever Bereavement Café at St Clare Hospice. When I walked in, the Café facilitators were at the door ready to greet me, offering me a cup of tea and chatting to me. I felt supported right from the moment I entered the room.”
Wendy: “I was already at the Bereavement Café when Barbara sat down at the table with me. For that first event, I came along with my Dad, as we’d recently just lost Mum in November 2018.
“However, I’d already experienced St Clare’s care when I found out about the Bereavement Cafés. My husband, Chris, stayed on the Hospice’s Inpatient Unit in July 2017, where he died in the care of St Clare. Originally, we’d planned for Chris to die at home, but the Hospice was definitely the best place for him to be. Chris was looked after better at St Clare than anywhere else I can think of.
“Yet, it was through my volunteering within St Clare’s Compassionate Neighbours project that I found out about the Cafés.
“I decided to come along to the Bereavement Café because I didn’t feel that I needed counselling, but I wanted to meet other groups of people who had gone through similar experiences to me.
“I wanted to learn from others, and also help others where I could. So when Barbara sat down at my table, and we got talking about the things we had in common, it just felt so natural.”
Barbara: “I was in floods of tears when I first started talking to Wendy about Peter. I thought that Wendy was so strong, and like she was there to support me to be able to open up!”
Wendy: “I really did feel strong at the time, and it was all I could do for Barbara, to be there for her. I wanted to give her the advice and guidance that I’d learned through my first year after Chris died. The first year after losing someone is always so difficult.
“When Mother’s Day came and went in March 2019, I was reminded how hard that ‘year of firsts’ really can be. After being so strong for Barbara throughout that first month of our friendship, it felt like the tables had turned!
“On the second Bereavement Café we attended together, Barbara and I swapped telephone numbers.
“It was at that point that our friendship really started to grow and develop, and this time, Barbara was the one who has been strong for me.
“After losing Mum, going through my first Mother’s Day without her made me hit a real low spell. I was suffering with anxiety and depression, and it felt like nothing was helping me to feel better. But I knew that Barbara was on the end of the phone, and that she was going to be there at the Bereavement Cafés. Barbara gave me the strength to keep going along to the Cafés as I knew I’d get that support I needed from seeing her.”
Barbara: “I call Wendy on the telephone every week to catch up with her and see how she’s doing. We chat about all kinds of things, and she finds out how I’m doing as well. We see each other at the Bereavement Cafés every month, too.
“As our friendship together has been growing, we’ve recently realised that my husband, Peter, and Wendy’s mum, must have been in the hospital at the same time as each other, as they died just a day apart. We couldn’t believe it when we realised – but it just brought us closer. It made us feel that, somehow, our paths had been connected for longer than we’d known!
“I’m so grateful for meeting Wendy, and for the Bereavement Cafés. My daughter and son can’t believe how far I’ve come since losing Peter, and I do believe it’s all thanks to St Clare.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for St Clare and the support I’ve had from the team – including the counselling I also had from them.
“I’d really encourage other people who have experienced bereavement, who feel like they’d like some extra support, to come along. Personally, I wish there were more Cafés local to me that I could go to! I really look forward to going. And I’ve been spreading the word to my friends and relatives, too!”
Wendy: “We know it can be a bit overwhelming when you first come into a Bereavement Café, with the hubbub of people chatting and laughing together. I think it’s normal to feel a little anxious about coming – but there is a part of you that just needs to be brave to take that first step to come, like Barbara and I did.
“However, the atmosphere is also the best thing about the Bereavement Café as it makes the whole situation seem normal, and not gloomy or sad.
“I remember saying to Dad on that first Café I attended, ‘Who would think this was a Bereavement Café?!’”
Barbara: “When I first walked in, I was surprised by what the Hospice was actually like. I’d always thought that Hospices were dark and sad place, but they’re not, at all. St Clare is bright with lots of light and smiling faces – with beautiful gardens and grounds that make you feel so welcome and peaceful.”
Wendy: “The first time I walked in, I looked around in the crowds of people chatting, and I noticed two people standing in the middle together. At first, they seemed to be perfect strangers, but the conversation grew deeper and it became clear they were having a special moment. All of a sudden, in the midst of this lively Café, they just hugged each other – in the middle of the room. I thought to myself, ‘where else would something like that happen?’
“Going through the same thing as another person, and knowing you’re not alone, can really bring you together. It’s nice to be somewhere that you don’t feel lonely, and that you’re not the only one who is going through what you’re going through! That’s what a Bereavement Café is all about.”
If you’d like to find out more about our Bereavement Cafés, please visit: stclarehospice.org.uk/bereavement-cafe
Alternatively, please give us a call on 01279 773762.
Barbara: “St Clare Hospice have given me so much, and without them, I don’t think I’d be here today. That’s why I wanted to give something back and have been doing my bit to help this amazing charity continue supporting local people, and their families!
“Not only have I started volunteering at their Epping charity shop, I also raised £80 in just a couple of hours by going out into the community with a collection tin!”
Wendy: “I also volunteer as a Compassionate Neighbour with the Hospice. St Clare is just the most amazing place ever – so we just wanted to give something back.”
If you’d like to find out how you can support your local Hospice, please visit our Get Involved page for fundraising and volunteering opportunities. Alternatively, please call our main Reception on 01279 773700.