The Bereavement Groups provide regular contact and group trips where the focus is on an interest and enjoying the company of others.
“It doesn’t end when a loved one passes away. It is the start of another journey,” says Carol Clifford, a hospice volunteer who runs the Gallery Group, which organises visits to exhibitions and holds art classes at the day centre.
“When you are looking after a relative, it is usually for a long time and your world shrinks. The outside life, the things they did together and the friends they had tend to fall away.
“You can have the pain of losing a relative but then be left bereft of everything because you have been so focused on helping someone else. It is easy to become isolated as their families may not be local and friends may have moved away.”
There are three groups, all formed four years ago as a way of helping people rebuild their lives and find new friendship groups and interests. People are referred to the group, mostly through our social workers and bereavement counsellors, who are employed by the hospice.
The Gallery Group has an art class at the day centre on the 3rd Wednesday of every month and visits an art exhibition at venues such as the National Portrait Gallery, The Tate and the Wallace Collection. It also organises coffee mornings and trips.
At the museums, the group hear about the history of the art as part of their experience.
Through generous donors, the group is able to employ an art historian who is on hand to provide an artistic and historical context at each exhibition. “It is absolutely fascinating because you can look at pictures in-depth and find out what was happening in that period,” adds Carol, who used to work in training and HR for a large accountancy firm in the City. “It is incredibly rich and deep as you find out about painting techniques and what certain symbols mean in a painting.
“We hear about the historical background, the painters, their techniques, what they were trying to achieve and who their rivals were. You get so much more than just appreciating the picture for its art.”
The Gallery Group, which also visited Buckingham Palace and Blenheim Palace this year, is funded by donations specifically for these groups.
“We are so fortunate to have these wonderful donors. Without them, it just wouldn’t be possible,” says Carol. “It is such a positive project and provides a lot of camaraderie. You are in a group that knows exactly what each of you are going through. They feel safe and if they are feeling particularly fragile it is picked up on and they look after each other. They are lovely group of people.
“You are with a group and doing something that is not directly focussing on bereavement, which is important. It is a group who know they are all in the same situation and if something comes up they naturally support each other. It breaks my heart to hear some of the things they have been through but they are strong and being together and looking forward to the group really helps.
“People who have not been bereaved struggle to understand the impact of having that hole in your life after putting so much effort into caring for your loved one. Doing something like this is such an important part of the bereavement process for them.
“Our hospice is unique with these groups and without the support of our incredible donors we would not be able to do this.”
Carol, who also works one day a week on Reception at the Hospice, was introduced to volunteering by former chairman Lord Guthrie.
“The hospital saved my daughter’s life when she was 17 and I am so grateful,” she adds. “She developed sepsis but it hadn’t been picked up. A friend suggested I call a surgeon at the hospital and he recognised the danger straight away. She is now 29 and absolutely fine.
“The nurses and doctors are so dedicated and the staff are very professional. It is a remarkable place.”