The first time I applied to do the clinical volunteer training at the hospice they turned me away. “It’s too early Annie, come back when its been at least a year.” I was so pissed off. 6 months in to my ‘first year of grief’ and I thought I had grief down…I thought I was on top of it all and could handle anything. Of course now I know that it takes reaching the end of that first year to be able to reflect back with just some vague clarity on just how hurt and muddled I really was. Anyway, almost a year to the day of mums death, I turned up at the hospice for my first day of training – and spent the entire time holding back tears as they screened a film of all the patients and families they have helped over the years with…of course….Eva Cassidy “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the backing soundtrack. I left thinking I had indeed made a terrible mistake and it was too early to be helping other people die when I was still going over my last moments I had with mum, wishing I had done better.
I turned up the following week though, determined to channel the pain of my own grief into something that would create value. The role of the clinical volunteer varies depending on whether you are helping patients on the ward, in the Anniversary Centre or at their homes, but fundamentally the role in each setting requires good listening skills, a compassionate and un-judging heart, and a sense of humour. Much of this is demanded in my training as a psychotherapist too, so I have thus far found the whole experience incredibly complimentary to the other important section of my life…admittedly sometimes even a little repetitive in the volunteer training. Needless to say I found myself feeling inspired learning about the bereavement programmes they have there, the Candle Project for children and so on…I could feel a path being carved out in my future – ‘writer, psychotherapist, bereavement support’ – I was beginning to feel a sense of identity…something that I so catastrophically lost the moment mum died. I felt excited and motivated suddenly.
By the end of the 8 weeks of training I was totally raring to go. I really wanted the one to one experience that helping patients at home would bring so I applied for that and was soon after given my first referral. We’ll call her Mary. She is 87 and dying of cancer.