Grief is a universal experience and affects circles of people around the person who has died who are faced with the ‘tasks’ of realising their loss. Offering support to people who are bereaved can help people to accept their loss and adapt to their new reality without their loved one. Bruce Rumbold and others studied the experience of bereaved care givers and identified opportunities for volunteer input into the post-bereavement period:
While most bereaved people do not require professional counseling, all would benefit from appropriate information and compassion…Additionally, approximately one-third of the bereaved caregivers would benefit from opportunities to reflect upon their loss, which could be provided by trained volunteers and bereavement support groups. For them, a brochure or telephone call alone might not be sufficient, yet they do not require specialist intervention.In Huntir A (2016) Palliative Care Volunteer Services: Guidance for managers, Palliative Care NSW, Surry Hills, p22
Grief, loss and bereavement are common features associated with a terminal diagnosis, dying and death. Hence bereavement support is a feature of all specialist palliative care services in Australia. Bereavement support takes various forms and volunteers may be involved in different aspects of their organisation’s programmes.
In a 2017 study of Bereavement Support by palliative care volunteers in NSW we found that the most common involvement by volunteers was one-on-one contact with clients (89% of respondents), then group support (25% of respondents), the provision of ‘health-service related information’ about grief, loss and bereavement (10% of respondents) and involvement in ‘anniversary card’ programs (7% of respondents). Click here to find our report Investigating Involvement in Bereavement Support by Palliative Care Volunteers (2017) and other resources on Grief and Bereavement Support.
Your volunteers will also find information on grief and loss, as well as bereavement support in Chapters 8 &9 of Palliare: A Handbook for Palliative Care Volunteers in NSW (2018). Palliare is available for free download on the VolunteerHub (www.volunteerhub.com.au) website or copies can be ordered through us.
Much has been written about the experiences of grief and loss and these personal reflections offer valuable insights for volunteers in being emotionally available to people in bereavement. Visit your local bookshop or search online. A compilation of short reflections by 60 different authors can be found in A Matter of Life and Death (2016) by editor Ros Bradley, herself a palliative care volunteer in NSW.
You might also find the Bereavement Support Standards for Specialist Palliative Care Services a valuable resource for more information about how specialist palliative care services approach bereavement support.