Alison’s story

Alison's mother died in 2006 after receiving hospice care at home. However, Alison didn't access bereavement services until January 2019. Here she explains how hospice services saved her mental health and how time is not a factor with grief.

"At 25 years old, I was travelling in Australia and received a call that my mum had been diagnosed with cancer. She had spinal cancer but had also been diagnosed with primary breast cancer. My parents called to say that I needed to make a decision if I was going to come home or not as they were going to find out how serious the cancer was in the coming days.

I booked my flight to go home for the weekend, arrived on the Monday and by Wednesday at Ipswich Hospital, we were told how serious the cancer was. She quickly deteriorated and the hospice team stepped in to care for mum at home.

Because her health deteriorated so quickly, I didn’t have time to process any of it. I was straight into practical mode with grandparents to look after and the funeral to plan. My mum had been the sticky tape for the entire family and I had to now take on that role.

12 to 13 years went by and in 2018 my Great Aunt died on my mum’s side. She was like another grandparent to me. Towards the end of her life, I cared for her before she was then in a home. In the same year, I also cared for my grandmother who then died at the age of 99.

Once my grandmother past away, I felt I had some freedom that I didn’t have to look after anyone anymore. But when that happened, everything that I had been supressing for 12-13 years hit me.

It was only until I was out with my friend, Hanna, that she asked me ‘are you ok?’ and I just said ‘I’ve got nothing in me’.

Alison 2

Alison Nightingale accessed St Elizabeth Hospice bereavement services 13 years after her mother died at home with hospice care.

Things for me weren’t great. I lost my spark. I didn’t want to get up in the morning and all I could feel was sadness. I could see myself getting lower and lower. I used to be sociable and now I didn’t want to go out or even exercise. I found it difficult to function and everything seemed worthless. I held onto the fact I had the responsibility of being a mother to twins so I could get up in the morning. I knew I needed some help – but I didn’t know what.

Hanna listened and asked about my mum and her hospice care. She then recognised I needed help with bereavement. Hanna referred me to the hospice emotional wellbeing team and things started to change.

I had an initial phone call with Katherine from the team and, following a holiday to New Zealand with my family, I then started using the bereavement therapy service at the beginning of 2019. I chose to have 1 to 1 counselling sessions.

Even though it happened 13 years ago, I never took the time to understand my grief and look after myself properly. I had to grow up overnight and take on new responsibilities when my mum died.

I never realised how much that affected me. I didn’t understand what I had lost, my anger, my sadness and guilt.

Particularly when I became a mum myself, I felt a huge loss not having my own mother to guide and help me. In therapy, I was finally able to express these feelings and address what happened.

It is a very cathartic experience. I am so much calmer and I know how to live with my grief forever. I also learnt how to be present in the moment, appreciate life and look forward to the future with my own family.

The hospice are so unique and special – the whole process saved my mental health and enabled me to live my life properly.

For anyone considering using the bereavement service, it does take some inner strength and you have to be committed for it to work. There is no judgement or stigma and I was proud to do something about it. Don’t be scared about the process because therapy does work. It’s all about what you put into it too. You can make that phone call to the team or get someone close to you to refer you.

Time is not a factor. It’s a myth that you have to access bereavement services 10 minutes after someone dies. The truth is that you can do it when you are ready. If grief is treated, it will heal but untouched it can do real damage and you can never move on. That was the turning point for me.

I now feel so much stronger for it and I know I can pick up the service again at any point."

Emotional wellbeing service

During COVID-19, the emotional wellbeing team have opened up their bereavement service to those who may not have accessed the hospice before.

  • In April 2020, a dedicated bereavement support webpage was set up, with live chat from counsellors on GriefChat
  • The 565 Service for children aged 5-18 was also introduced. Our 565 site has plenty of resources for youngsters, parents and schools to support children through bereavement
  • The emotional wellbeing enquiry line was also set up during the pandemic. This runs from Monday to Friday, 9am-4pm. You can contact the team on 01473 707999
  • Updated pages across our emotional wellbeing support services in response to the pandemic

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