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My grief and counselling: Julia's story

Grief and shock can be sneaky bedfellows. They often have the element of surprise and can leap out and assault you at any time – often when you least expect it.

For Julia, that surprise came twenty-eight years after the death of her husband Chris, from bowel cancer and six years after the death of her son Matt.

In 1995, left alone with three small boys to raise, Julia took a metaphorical deep breath, held on, and coped. Six years later, when her son Matt was diagnosed with a brain tumour – she continued to cope. Finally, in 2017, Matt decided that he wanted no more treatment.

It was then she contacted the hospice at home team (now the Hospice Outreach Service) who were, says Julia, ‘marvellous’ offering comfort and support in so many ways.

Julia's Story

Grief can hit at any time

The team offered practical and financial advice and even sorted a blue badge for Matt. They arranged his medication and pain relief, organised help and equipment and, over the Easter weekend, even arranged for a nurse to stay overnight so that Julia could get some sleep – she didn’t sleep of course!

When the end was near, a bed was found at the Hospice and, although Matt died within four hours of his arrival, it was, says Julia, ‘a very peaceful end. Matt was not distressed and not in any pain’.

Julia has continued to take great comfort in that.

Julia had always prided herself on being able to cope and, in the years following Matt’s death, she used ‘coping’ as a defence mechanism. She focused on the wellbeing of others rather than considering what she needed herself.

But, as Julia says, grief is not time exclusive, and it was a shock to find that some six years later she suddenly was unable to cope. For Julia that was ‘the hardest thing to have to deal with’.

It was her G.P who suggested counselling and pointed her in the direction of Hospice in the Weald where free counselling and support is available for ‘everyone affected by a terminal illness’.

Julia embarked on a twelve-week course of counselling, opting to have her sessions at the Hospice, rather than at home or online, because, she says, she ‘felt very comfortable being in the place where Matt had died’.

matt and Julia

Feeling unable to cope was difficult

Whether grief strikes quickly or whether it lurks in the shadows until several years down the line, failing to self-protect can, unsurprisingly, do more damage than pro-actively seeking help.

Julia says that the counselling offered by the Hospice, finally allowed her to explore her feelings with the help of someone who wasn’t emotionally connected to her experience of grief. More importantly, it offered her a more realistic perspective and finally gave her permission to step back from her worry and anxiety about others.

Our Counselling Service helped Julia to understand that in not prioritising and protecting herself, she was perhaps not helping her family and friends in the best way possible. She began to realise that reaching out and taking help wasn’t necessarily a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength returning.

It is a common belief that grief arrives, on your doorstep, ready packaged, within days of a bereavement. That all you have to do is ‘deal’ with it efficiently and then pack it away. The reality of course, is that grief, and its companion, shock, can creep up on you at almost any time. But at whatever point that happens, the Hospice will be there to support you, because –

‘a Hospice is not just a place for those who are sick or in need of end-of-life care, it is also a place for those who have walked alongside them.’