Every year St Elizabeth Hospice cares for more than 3,000 patients and their families throughout East Suffolk, Great Yarmouth and Waveney. This care sees the independent Suffolk charity providing free services – whenever and wherever it is needed, whether at home, in the community or at the hospice – to those living with a progressive or life-limiting illness.
As well as clinical care, the hospice also provides a range of emotional and wellbeing support through its bereavement support service, LivingGrief. Via face-to-face consultations or phone and video call support, in 2021 alone, more than 225 people have been supported by this service.
One person who was supported by the LivingGrief team, is Emma Howells, whose mum Jill Seymour was cared for by St Elizabeth Hospice until her passing in January 2021.
“Mum had first been diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 49 and living in Devon,” explained Emma.
“However, after 13 years it came back and unfortunately was diagnosed as inoperable and incurable. During this time, she received palliative care from the hospice and went into St Elizabeth Hospice in December 2020 before she passed away in the January.
“As well as physical care, she also received counselling support from the hospice which is when I first learnt about the emotional and wellbeing support the hospice provided.
“We had the most amazing banter and humour in our relationship, it was just a brilliant friendship. Mum loved walking, being a part of the WI, helping Saint John’s Ambulance, assisting at a bereavement support group for child loss as well as being a part of many friendship circles; she loved being around people.
“After the loss of her daughter Zoe, at the age of 24, came the passing of her mum and then her sister, then discovering her cancer had returned. This was all in a 4-year period and understandably, this hit my Mum very hard.
“However I could not have been prouder of her after her re-diagnosis. Of course she struggled at times, but she tried to live life to the max. She climbed the O2 with our family, went on lots of holidays, we went to Wimbledon which she had always wanted to do.
“Mum was on the sidelines watching her grandsons play football weekly, she was the first person up on roller skates at her granddaughter’s birthday party, these are just some of the special memories that we created together.”
After the loss of her mum, her sister, aunt and grandmother in a short period of time, Emma realised she was not herself and the feelings of loss and grief were impacting her daily life.
“I literally went through every emotion you can think of during that time, anger, sadness and feeling low, through to relief, as I knew mum was no longer in pain,” Emma said.
“We had been through weeks and weeks of uncertainty and I was not sure how I should be feeling. When mum died, I felt through losing Zoe that I would have more experience to deal with the range of emotions you feel and the panic attacks.
“I thought the same things that helped me through grief previously would work again but that wasn’t the case. I became very insular, bottling up how I felt and channeling myself into exercise to get through it, but deep down I felt very alone.
“The pandemic also made things harder, as I could not see friends or family easily and we had to have a small funeral for mum. I was not allowed to sit next to my children during the service or hug anyone for support, not even being allowed to have a wake, it was very tough.”
It was during this time that Emma remembered the counselling support the hospice offered and this prompted her to contact the St Elizabeth Hospice emotional and wellbeing support team for support.
She said: “I just thought I have nothing to lose and I knew how great they had been through the care they gave mum. After contacting the hospice team, they told me about the LivingGrief sessions which I decided to attend.
“Taking place online these gave me the chance to meet others living through similar experiences to me, which was so helpful in making me feel I wasn’t alone, while I also heard from counsellors explaining how the different stages of grief can feel and that everyone’s emotions are different.
“Hearing people talk openly about grief made it feel relatable to me and it was comforting to know I wasn’t alone in what I was experiencing. One lady, Jo, put her number in the chat box saying if anyone wanted to talk to her then they could.
“After the session finished, I dropped Jo a line and we found we had so much in common, even living only streets a part, and we have become good friends, bonding over dog walking and supporting each other through our grief. We often laugh and joke that our mums have brought us together.
“When Zoe died, I turned to my art and craft to help me with my bereavement, spending lots of time in my studio. However, after mum passed my studio was no longer a haven and made me feel alone.
“Through the LivingGrief session I learned taking a few steps backwards was not a sign of weakness and it also introduced me to a new friend who has provided me with the most brilliant support and understanding.
“Losing mum broke me, she wasn’t just a mum, she was a friend and the person I always wanted to speak to about everything and anything. However, the support of my amazing husband Alex, my children, family and friends as well as the LivingGrief team and Jo, I am learning to cope and live my life after bereavement.
“I am incredibly grateful to the LivingGrief group for making me understand I was not alone and for enabling me to meet Jo and make a friend for life. I cannot recommend LivingGrief more highly. All I can say is ‘thank you’ to the LivingGrief team and all the hospice staff for the care they gave mum and I, it was phenomenal.”
For more information about St Elizabeth Hospice’s LivingGrief services visit www.stelizabethhospice.org.uk/how-we-can-help/information-and-support/bereavement-support/.