Caritas Responds To Covid-19 Bereavement Counselling Need

Thursday 10th December 2020

For several weeks now a growing number of individuals have been meeting via video conference on Wednesday evenings. For those involved it has proved to be a vital window of comfort during a very difficult period, meeting a need they could not have anticipated having this time last year, as this is the recently formed Covid-19 Bereavement Group.

The group came about from a moving conversation with Finola Kelly whose husband, Dr John Kelly, died in hospital from Covid-19 during the early days of the pandemic back in April. Here, Finola kindly shares her story:

After John died I felt very strongly that I needed to share my experiences with others, anyone kind enough and willing to listen to me, but I particularly felt the need to talk to people who had been through the same things. I think in this Covid situation the grief we are experiencing is somewhat unique – we couldn’t be with John while in hospital and especially when he was transferred to intensive care and even after he died we were unable to see him or even touch his coffin.

The funeral arrangements were so different because John died very early on in the pandemic and the churches were completely closed. Through nobody’s fault, we had no opportunity to bring his body into church and he was denied all the usual rites of the Catholic Church, including the Sacrament of the Sick. John’s Requiem Mass was held in an empty church and we had to watch via the internet which, although was of some comfort, could not replace our need to be surrounded by family and friends, which would have helped us and given us all the chance to say goodbye properly. I still feel as if I’ve not fulfilled my duty and that John has been denied the respect he so richly deserved after death.”

Listening to Finola’s experience prompted Caritas to investigate whether there were any local bereavement groups which would address the unique needs she had identified. It appeared not until a conversation with Caritas and Diocesan Trustee and High Sheriff of Greater Manchester, Eamonn O’Neal, directly led to the Covid-19 Bereavement Group being formed. Eamonn was able to put Caritas in touch with Bernadette O’Neal, a qualified Bereavement Counsellor with a Masters in Psychology, Diploma in Psychotherapy and a deep understanding of the Catholic Faith. Bernie immediately recognised the need and generously offered her services in setting up and facilitating a group. Bernie comments:

“It’s important, especially in these unique times, to be able to talk about what you’re going through and make sense of all of your emotions after being bereaved. The bereavement group has started small but it has been an opportunity for people to feel that they are not alone and are able to share their experiences with others who understand what they are going through. Those involved have found it useful to know that there are people to talk to and they are finding comfort through supporting each other. People may be at different stages of their grief and so can offer insights into the bereavement process which can be reassuring.

Losing a loved one is the most devastating experience at any time but because of the restrictions that we are all going through at the moment as well as the ongoing anxieties, it can make emotions more intense and difficult to manage.

The group has certainly made a difference in a short space of time. As Finola says, Our little group has already helped me very much. Bernie has been so easy to talk to and seems to understand very much what we are going through.  The group helps me to understand that I’m not alone in feeling the way I do, that these emotions are normal and that sharing them helps me to accept the feelings are natural, allowed and to be expected. Also that there is no time limit to how long these feelings will last, everyone’s grief is different, and we should not expect too much of ourselves too soon.”

Other group members have also commented on their experiences of being part of the group:

“I have found the group a great help and comfort. Bernie is great – she knows what we are going through and her help is treasured. Thank you Caritas for organising this help and support.”

“It has been very reassuring and comforting to hear and share with others our feelings and thoughts. It helps that although we’re not all in the same boat we’re all trying to navigate our way through the storm of grief and can relate and empathise with each other.  Especially being able to speak openly in a caring and Catholic context is particularly helpful. I would encourage anyone to reach out for support in this particularly challenging time of bereavement. I would personally like to thank Caritas for setting up this wonderful support.”

In terms of the future of the group, we’ll leave the final word with Finola: I look forward to a time when our group will be able to get together in person, but in the meantime our zoom meetings are proving very helpful. I’m very happy to be part of this group especially as our faith seems to be so important to each of us, and without that it would all feel very hopeless and the world an even darker place.

For enquiries about the Covid-19 bereavement group, please contact Kath Ansley or ring 07508121024.

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