Meet Maggie, where she explains how she started volunteering at Katharine House and why she then moved on to bereavement support work. Following this video, Maggie talked to us more about her volunteer role over the past year.

What was so appealing about the role?

In my previous working role as Deputy Head, my focus was on pastoral work, so I am aware how helpful it can be to have someone to talk to, who will listen without judgement. I’ve completed a wide range of courses in counselling and have developed a genuine passion for how best to help someone facing difficult challenges. So, bereavement support felt like a good fit for me. It’s definitely a role that requires personal resilience and was something that I felt I had the capacity take on.

Our purpose is somewhat different to the medical professionals at Katharine House, who are trying to support patients through excellent palliative care, including pain management. Part of what we do In bereavement support work is witnessing and validating the pain of loss, to stay with the client on their grief journey. Grief isn’t something that’s wrong. It’s a natural process and takes as long as it takes. We don’t try to fix their grief, but help people carry their pain.

What do you enjoy about bereavement counselling?

The bereavement support work offers a special service, it is a valuable way to give back to the local community. It’s something that’s always challenging, definitely meaningful. During the pandemic, we’ve had to learn to work differently doing all our support work on the telephone.

Initially, it was very difficult not being in the same room with a person, as you can’t read body language and silences feel very long. But over time I’ve learnt to tune into the nuances of language. I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but if you concentrate fully on what people are saying, you can ‘see’ and feel the emotions they are struggling to verbalise.

There have been clients that I’ve been supporting for a year or more who I’ve never met face to face. It took some getting used to. On the other hand, perhaps a level of anonymity allows people to open up in a way that they might otherwise feel self-conscious about.

"Helping people to manage their grief is a huge privilege; clients trust you with deeply important personal experiences, which they might not have shared with others."

How has COVID-19 affected your counselling?

During COVID I’ve noticed that people have needed longer periods of support. Restrictions on the numbers of people allowed to attend funerals, lack of being able to socialize or go to the pub with friends and share your experience of loss has made bereavement an even more difficult journey. Every time there was a change in the restrictions I found that many of my clients had to take a breath and a step backwards before moving forwards again.

Much has been said about collective Covid grief, but when you have experienced your own private grief alongside of societal grief, my experience is that has amplified the sense of individual loss.

I think helping people to manage their grief is a huge privilege; clients trust you with deeply important personal experiences, which they might not have shared with others. But it has also given me a sense of purpose over lockdown, providing me with something helpful and positive to do. Without a doubt I’ve got as much out of volunteering, as, I hope, the people I’ve been working with. I have learned an enormous amount form each individual client.

The bereavement team have had valuable support from Mel and her team over the year, giving us Zoom training and personal supervision once a month. We felt very supported in our work.

I have felt enormously proud of what our colleagues achieve at Katharine House under enormous pressure and uncertainty. Without fail, clients say how compassionately their loved one was treated, how staff went above and beyond the call of duty, and during the final moments they witnessed care with dignity in death. 

People feel a very strong connection to the hospice and are unbelievably grateful for the kindness and care received at the hospice. It helps make the unbearable a bit more bearable.

What would you say to a friend about volunteering at Katharine House?

I would say definitely do it! People may not know how reliant the hospice is on the huge team of volunteers. There’s a range of different roles you can explore and a reasonable amount of flexibility timewise. Bereavement support might not be for you, but there are many other areas needing volunteers, from gardening to maintenance, being on reception or ward clerking. Speak to people at Katharine House and go volunteer!

What do you like to do outside of volunteering?

I am a school governor, a runner and like going to the gym. I’m also a member of the Hook Norton Literary Society, Sibford Book Group and a rather ‘haphazard’ but enthusiastic gardener. I also love travelling and doing things with my family, and very much looking forward to travelling again in the future.

Katharine House Hospice