Many of us are familiar with the wonderful support and care of Acclaim Health within the Halton community. One of their program offerings is bereavement support, providing group and individual counselling and ongoing help to those dealing with loss.

In addition to bereavement support offered by their team of professionals, Acclaim also offers training for volunteers who wish to support others in the community who have experienced loss.

A few of our Widowed Friends (WF) members have taken the training and we thought it would be interesting to talk to a participant about his experience. Peter has been a WF member from the inception of the group and recently joined the volunteer training.

WF Member Peter

Q.  What led you to the decision to take Bereavement Volunteer Training?

A. That’s a difficult question and is really a multi-part answer. After the loss of my partner, I was devastated and searched for ways to find relief and comfort.  I attended Acclaim’s bereavement counseling and that’s where I clearly saw the value and positive benefits of sharing stories and talking about our loved ones with others who understood the depth of partner loss.  I discovered that while we internalize our feelings of grief, mourning or sharing our sadness with others publicly allows all our thoughts, emotions and feelings out and gives our pain a healthy venue for expression. My philosophy is to move on in a healthy manner from our loss, we have to “feel it to heal it”.

I think we’ve all had that experience where well-meaning relatives and friends avoid talking about the person who has died, not realizing that one of the things we really want to do is talk about our person and our experience, at least in the beginning of loss.  The bereavement support program offers the perfect one-on-one process to help people “feel” their way through the grief process to a new place.

I saw the training as a way of giving back to the community through the experience, strength and insight I had gained along the way – it was my opportunity to help someone else by listening to their story and being able to support them, as I had been supported.  It’s so important to be able to talk with someone who has shared a similar loss and is able to really understand the feelings and stages we each go through.

I also saw helping others as another way of honouring my partner. She was very involved in non-profits and was a helper in her life.  By participating with Acclaim in the bereavement training, I felt I was carrying on her interest in working with the community and helping to improve it.

Q. What was your time commitment to the training?

A. Acclaim suggests that volunteers wait a couple of years, if they have experienced a loss, to volunteer in the program. As a group of 10, we met over 8 weeks, 3 hours a week with a facilitator who led us through the program. We talked about loss, various client scenarios that could arise, how to manage our own emotions as you listen to the grieving person and more. We worked methodically through a binder of information and also had to opportunity to hear guest speakers and watch videos on various topics.

Q. How were you supported following the training?

A. Acclaim is very responsive to any concerns I expressed. Each volunteer is assigned a co-ordinator that is available at any time. It’s important to remember that your role as a bereavement support person is really to be an understanding friend to the person you have been assigned – there is no other expectation. You never feel like you are alone after training – Acclaim is always there to provide feedback and support.

Q. Would you recommend this training to others?

A. I’m living proof that life not only continues but that we can all find new paths going forwards. I feel that I’ve changed significantly since my loss and now try to really focus on ways I can be of help to others. This program not only helped me personally heal but also helped me learn valuable skills in really listening, to be non-judgmental in others experiences and to be present in the moment for both the client and to everyone in my daily life.

Helen Keller said  “The only way to get to the other side is to go through the door” and that really embodies what this program is all about. I’m glad to have the opportunity to help others work through the challenges of the grief process, reassuring people that whatever they feel is ok and part of the journey and that they can reach the other side of the loss.