Jane Cato, our counselling and bereavement services manager, explains how Zoom video calls have been a crucial means of support for patients and loved ones during these challenging times.
Four months ago, most people I spoke with hadn’t heard about Zoom. If you had asked someone if they would like to have online counselling, they may have given you a strange look! But now, using video conferencing software such as Zoom has become a regular part of many people’s lives.
I was talking with a newly bereaved family member last week. I had called her around 36 hours after her father had died on Martlets’ inpatient unit (IPU). This is something we offer the newly bereaved when a loved one has died on our IPU. It is an opportunity for the family and friends to sit and talk about the last few days, weeks and months. They are entering a profoundly changed world, one in which their dearly loved person is no longer alive. We also give them practical information. This includes registering their loved one’s death, and advice on arranging the funeral and the practical things that need doing.
The woman I was talking to lives in New Zealand. Her son, who lives in Brighton, was on the call too. The three of us gently and quietly talked about her father and his grandad. They spoke about his life and how very sad it was that he had died. But also mentioned how pleased they were that he had accessed the ‘marvellous care that Martlets gives’.
She spoke of how fortunate she was to be able to spend time with her father during his last days. The family felt involved and connected because we were able to speak via Zoom and could see one another on our respective computers or phones. The ward staff organised daily Zoom meetings with her. She also told me how she was able to see her father via video and play him his favourite music. These were precious moments which gave her great comfort during his last days.
‘Virtual’ contact online has been a lifeline for so many families; at a time when face-to-face contact has been withdrawn, or significantly distanced. Nothing can replace holding your loved one’s hand as they are dying. However, being able to see them and talk to them through Zoom offers some connection.
Zoom bereavement support works for some
The bereavement service team realised in mid-March that all face-to-face support and counselling would have to be stopped due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Since then we have been offering support over the phone or via Zoom. Many people were understandably reluctant to give it a go. It was another new, unfamiliar, unwanted thing to adapt to. And it doesn’t suit everyone. Though face-to-face contact isn’t easy for some people either.
However, just as people have embraced Zoom quiz nights and parties with friends and family, others in our community have been accessing bereavement counselling online. Our amazing team of counsellors have all had to learn how to offer support via a screen. And it has been heartening to hear postitive feedback. People have been able to share something of their grief and sadness, confusion and bewilderment in our ‘new normal’. This new way of offering bereavement support has helped keep Martlets caring. We’ve been able to provide comfort and a place to grieve.
We don’t know yet when we will be able to return to seeing people in person. We continue to live with uncertainty and change as we find our way in a Covid-19 world. But one day we will and we look forward to welcoming our community back to the Hospice. In the meantime, we are looking at ways to bring bereaved people together for mutual support. We may run a Zoom group — watch this space!
During a lengthy illness, following the funeral, or sometimes long after the death of a loved one grief may become more than you are able or willing to handle. There are services and support which can help you through this time.
Useful Services and information:
Cruse Bereavement Service
Cruse offer a bereavement helpline to give support as you need it in addition to their website where you can also find resources on how to support your child.
Winston’s Wish has a wealth of resources and advice on how to support your child through bereavement, whilst also dealing with your own grief. They also have a free phone helpline you can call.
Childhood Bereavement UK
Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement.