Learning about Volunteer Bereavement Listening, with Graham Wainwright

One of the more complex volunteering opportunities we offer is becoming a Bereavement Listener. It can often be confused with counselling, however, it is not and no counselling or psychiatric background is required to become a Bereavement Listener. We recently had a lovely discussion with one of our volunteers within this sphere, Graham, to discuss his experiences and reason for being one of these hugely impressive volunteers.

Graham has been a volunteer in our Hospice for six years and, after hearing about this opportunity, has been a Listener for the past two and a half years. 

When being a Bereavement Listener your main task is to listen clients who want to discuss the bereavement of a loved one. It’s purely on a one-to-one basis held in a comfortable and welcoming setting and atmosphere.

“Even when you know a loved one is going to pass, it’s still a shock. You’re there to listen. Bereavement never really goes, we just learn to manage and live with it. It’s our job to help with that process and support those on that journey.”

Some clients find it easier to be more open to a stranger about their emotions and experiences than a family member or close friend. Perhaps they didn’t want to seem ‘vulnerable’ or maybe they don’t want to be seen as an added cause of concern to a loved one, as they will often also be grieving themselves. In some cases, a personal support network simply isn’t available, so this acts as that contact.

Graham initially started volunteering with the charity after his partner was supported in the Hospice during the treatment of her life-limiting illness. He’s also had others in his life require the service, and he explained all of the experiences he’s had with those working at the Hospice have been invaluable; “The doctors and nurses are amazing. They’re helping people through their loss and those who pass on go without pain.”

He wanted to give back and believed that donating his time was the best way he could show his appreciation and help the Hospice. Also, being involved in some similar situations himself, he believed he could support others going through some of the more challenging and emotional periods they will most likely experience.

As with all our Listeners, when Graham expressed an interest in becoming a member of the team he had an introductory interview and then completed our ten-week training and preparation program. It’s a group-based comprehensive look into the aspects of bereavement and how to appropriately interact with and supervise the bereaved. After which, the Bereavement Listening Lead will decide whether a candidate is invited to become a Bereavement Listener. Not everyone is accepted.

During his time so far, Graham has worked with numerous clients in all sorts of different scenarios and coming from a vast range of backgrounds. Graham described that the initial challenge is creating a rapport with the guest and creating a suitable environment.

“As with all life, people are different and will have different emotions and reactions when grieving. Some want to shout, some want to cry, some feel guilt and some feel anger. We need to quickly understand how to appropriately provide them the space to make them feel comfortable enough to express themselves.”

In order to support all of our bereavement team, we have monthly get-togethers to discuss each client’s progress, both their clients and their mental health, share advice with one another on how to handle certain situations and anything else any of the members require.

With so many ways to volunteer, you could ask why pick this route with so many potential challenges? For some, it is a calling. In Graham’s case, it was to give back to the Hospice and to support others who are going through similar experiences as to what he had, and he thoroughly enjoys it;

“If you feel you are the right type of person, give it a try. Seeing people who are dealing with loss and knowing that you’re helping in a small way is very fulfilling. You could potentially be the only person they feel comfortable talking to, and that in itself is enough reward.”

Graham, thank you for taking the time to speak with us about your experiences and sharing such great insights. It was a pleasure.

To all our bereavement listeners, you do such an amazing job in a role that could be seen as difficult by others. Your empathy, compassion and helpfulness is truly commendable.

Interested in volunteering? Talk to us!

You might also enjoy

Get In touch