The Rowans Family Service Volunteers (FSVs) might not immediately be thought of as front-line or essential. However, in this unprecedented time of fear and uncertainty, their role in providing skilled support to our bereaved families has never been more necessary.
by Dr Stephanie Jones
Senior Clinical Psychologist / Bereavement Lead
Each Thursday evening we all spend a few moments clapping and banging saucepans to show our appreciation of the incredible efforts of front-line workers as they do battle with COVID-19. Undoubtedly, our thoughts immediately focus on colleagues within the Hospice, Hospital and Community teams who continue to support our patients and their families through the most difficult times in their lives.
Like me, many of you will also find yourselves reflecting on the many unsung heroes we know; the retail workers, delivery drivers, catering staff, pharmacists and administrators still working tirelessly behind the scenes to keep our essential services running.
An essential role
The Rowans Family Service Volunteers (FSVs) are one such group of people who might not immediately be thought of as front-line or essential. However, in this unprecedented time of fear and uncertainty, their role in providing skilled support to our bereaved families has never been more necessary.
Not only are the bereaved prevented from accessing face-to-face support from family and friends, other sources of support are also closed.
We know that for many people, the loss of a loved-one brings a sense of loneliness and social isolation. But the impact is far greater while the country is in lockdown. Not only are the bereaved prevented from accessing face-to-face support from family and friends, other sources of social and emotional support like churches and community groups are also closed.
The Dual Process Model of grief and loss tells us that moving between two states of ‘loss’ and ‘restoration’ helps us to process our grief and find new meaning in our lives. Yet, restorative activities, such as hobbies and pastimes, that might otherwise provide solace or distraction from grief are unavailable. Meanwhile delayed and sparsely attended funerals leave families unable to engage in their chosen ways of mourning, Without adequate support, bereaved families can find themselves stuck in the limbo that has become synonymous with loss in the time of lockdown.
New ways of working
Our dedicated volunteers have enthusiastically embraced new ways of working
From the moment the country was put into lockdown, our FSV team were keen to help adapt the Bereavement Service to continue providing vital support to our clients. After a brief pause for breath, our dedicated volunteers have enthusiastically embraced new ways of working and new technology. FSVs are now offering regular bereavement support sessions by phone with both existing and new clients and accessing supervision from the Psychology Team by phone and video.
We are also exploring the potential for them to offer support to our clients by video conferencing very soon. Rising to the challenge has been no small task. We are all adapting our skills as we learn how to respond to people’s distress when we can’t see them or pass them a simple tissue.
From recent bereavement to anniversaries
Our volunteers are not only supporting people through recent bereavements but also the anniversaries of deaths that cannot be marked as they hoped, being unable to have that family meal, scatter the ashes or lay the headstone.
As we find ourselves in such a unique situation, our volunteers are supporting people much earlier in their bereavement than we usually would, which brings with it greater challenges in working with the numbness or raw distress that is often characteristic of those first few difficult weeks.
Our FSVs pulled together to keep the bereavement service working
Although many of our FSVs fall into the vulnerable category themselves, or care for someone who does, they have pulled together to keep the bereavement service working and have done so without complaint.