My professional experience and qualifications enable you to know that I have the relevant training and rigour to do this work, but grief is profoundly personal and job titles are not; so I would also like you to know what has motivated me for the last 30 years to work with loss of the individuals who are grieving the person they love.
My first counselling job was as a volunteer for Westminster Bereavement Service 30 years ago; when I would step into the homes of people whose children had for instance, died in car crashes or husbands had died of a heart attack. Although I felt daunted, inadequate and scared in the face of their anguish I knew early on I had found the job for the rest of my life. I went onto work in a drop in centre for MIND.
This was followed by a more formal counselling training at Westminster Pastoral Foundation and I gained experience from another two years volunteering. At the time I was Chairman of the fundraising arm of the charity Wellbeing (formerly Birthright), which opened my eyes to the devastation caused by infertility and baby death.
It led me one sunny morning, persuading a board of Obstetric Consultants at St Mary’s Hospital, to take me on as their first counsellor; to support the families whose babies and children had died. I worked there for the next twenty-three years. I learned from those families, that the response they received at the time of the death; how they were spoken to, the choices and information they were given, how much time they had with their child before and after the death, had a significant impact on how their grief progressed. It inspired a determination in me to take that learning beyond my room in Paddington, out into the world. So with Jenni Thomas as Founder, I worked as Founder Patron to establish and launch Child Bereavement UK which is now the leading national charity that supports families and trains professionals when a child dies or when a child is bereaved. Until September 2019 Child Bereavement UK was been a central focus of my work and my life. After twenty-five years I stepped down as a Trustee and my active role in the charity, although I remain Founder Patron and a keen supporter.
The more I have learned the more I have realised what I don’t know both practically and psychologically. I wanted to know what more could I offer, what more could we do psychologically I wanted to know how come this person was behaving like that, and how come I said one thing, but held back what I really wanted to say? How could I find a way of saying it all. How to make sense of their response, what was going on in them, how to broaden the lines of understanding and feel connected with this person.
That questioning has never left me, and led me to do years of further training like my Msc., but also teaching; where I’ve loved the sharing of ideas, but most importantly, seeing the relief in people’s eyes when it dawns on them, they can do this death and dying thing, and the grief thing, this talking and feeling thing, it only requires the courage to dare.
I’m inspired by the extraordinary people I meet, some come to me seeking support, others want me to help raise awareness of the needs of bereaved families.
Now I work in private practice and it is from there that I wrote my new book This Too Shall Pass: stories of change, crisis and hopeful beginnings. It is set out in the same way as Grief Works, and is about living losses – the endings and beginnings that make up the transitions of our life, throughout our life.