While patients at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall are now being cared for in the new state of the art hospice building, the mansion house has not been left to go to ruin.
The Grade II listed house, including the recently refurbished West Wing, is now being used to deliver some of the services people might not be so familiar with that are key to Thorpe Hall’s offering. One of those is the relaunched bereavement support groups, which are invaluable to those who use them.
One of those is John Morren, who was nervous about walking into a room full of strangers. He was already feeling alone and vulnerable following the death of his wife Elaine just a few weeks before. John said: “I wasn’t sure about being in a room full of people I didn’t know and sharing my feelings. But when you are first bereaved there is a danger of becoming a vegetable, watching day time television and not speaking to anyone. I knew I had to get myself out of the house and talk to people who understood.”
And that understanding is what he found in that room in the West Wing from the other members of the Bereavement Support Group.
“The first few sessions I did a lot of listening and held back from joining in, sitting on the edge a little. But gradually I found myself drawing in and starting to share and it felt good to talk. And it wasn’t depressing at all – something I’d worried about. In fact sometimes we laughed so much – which we took as a good sign that we were moving on.”
Hundreds of people whose loved ones have been cared for at Thorpe Hall in Longthorpe, Peterborough have found similar comfort through the hospice’s bereavement support service. That support is now being extended and relaunched enabling those who have had no previous connection with Thorpe Hall to benefit from the expertise of staff and volunteers. Head of family support Jo Ruff said: “We know the value of the support our teams offer family and friends at a very difficult time and we want as many people as possible to be able to access that.”
The fortnightly Bereavement Support Group which John attended has been reshaped, offering help to anyone across the region who has had a loved one die within the last six months.
“We have a team of specially trained volunteers who facilitate the meetings,” explained Jo. “There is no right or wrong way for people to be in the meetings – some like to talk and share their experiences, others prefer to listen, there are tears and there is laughter. The key thing is that people feel comfortable in an environment where everyone has been through the same experience.”
Alongside the Bereavement Support Group, a new Friendship Group has also been launched this month.
“As time moves on, people are able to start looking to the future more and we wanted to provide the right environment for that to happen,” said Jo. “After around six months with the Bereavement Support Group, people will be invited to join the Friendship Group. There will still be members of our team on hand to provide support but there will be more emphasis on encouraging members to get to know each other and build supportive friendships which will eventually continue outside Thorpe Hall.”
John did just that. He said: “It is very strange, and difficult, suddenly being single. You go from always having someone to go out with and enjoy a meal with to not having that. It was lovely to meet people who knew how that felt and to go out and spend time with. And away from the group we started talking about lots of other things and finding things in common – it was a natural progression.”
John now attends Thorpe Hall’s Luncheon Club with one of his new friends and is delighted he had the support to broaden his horizons. He is an inaugural member of the new Friendship Group, for those who are feeling ready to move on from the Bereavement Support Group.
Jo Ruff and her team are very mindful of the importance of individual care.
“Everyone is different and people need different levels of support through the grief journey,” said Jo. “As a family support team we want to make sure we are providing the right level of support to each individual. The relaunch of our support groups is an important step towards making that happen.”
And it’s not just adults that can benefit from these services. Thorpe Hall Hospice also has a specialist bereavement group for seven to 13-year-olds called Charlie Chimp Club. Kerry Walters took her daughter Tia to the group.
Tia knew her granddad Lionel Churchman wasn’t going to get better. Then just seven, Tia visited her grandad during his final days at Thorpe Hall, fussing over him, organising his things so they were within easy reach and feeding him ice cream.
“When he died she seemed very accepting, on the outside at least,” said Kerry. “She was very upset but she talked about the angels taking care of him and how that meant he didn’t have cancer any more. She described him being in his garden shed and looking down every night from the brightest star.”
But within weeks Kerry noticed a change in her daughter. “She had always been easy going but now she seemed angry, frustrated and short tempered. She was pushing me away and I couldn’t get to the bottom of the problem. I’d expected her to grieve but I thought that would be lots of tears and questions. I didn’t link these new emotions she was displaying to Dad dying.”
It was then that Kerry took Tia to Charlie Chimp Club.
“The family support team explained how the six weekly sessions were aimed at giving the children chance to talk about how they were feeling, help them understand their emotions and let them meet other children in the same position so they knew what they were going through was ‘normal,” said Kerry. “It sounded ideal – and Tia was keen.”
Indeed Tia embraced everything the club offered from the first session, growing more positive each week. Kerry said: “After the second or third session she started opening up. She talked about games they’d played, people she’d talked to and the memory box she had made to remember Grandad. The sessions helped her understand her own feelings and realise she wasn’t alone.”
At such a young age, Tia found the visuals and graphics the Charlie Chimp Club team use particularly useful. Kerry said: “She didn’t have the words for some of the things she was feeling but given the chance to express those feelings through colouring and pictures she could finally let them out.
“The support we received from the family support team at Thorpe Hall was invaluable – it just made everything less overwhelming. We are so lucky to have such a service to call upon. Dad was the one who was poorly, who needed the care, but it was never just about Dad. It was about all of us. And they’ve helped us all come through our grief.”
In the future a bereavement group aimed specifically at teenagers will be launched at Thorpe Hall, again giving them the targeted support they need when someone close to them has died.
The Thorpe Hall Bereavement Support Group and Friendship Group both meet fortnightly, alternating afternoons and evenings. Charlie Chimp Club sessions are held in blocks of six.
You do not need to have a connection with Thorpe Hall to receive support from the team. For more information about Thorpe Hall’s bereavement support services please visit the website www.sueryder.org or call the team on 01733 225900.