I’m honoured to spend time with these very brave, strong people

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Liz Findlay is one of our volunteer counsellors.  She, and other volunteers, have continued to provide essential emotional support to people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, she shares more about her volunteering. 

“I’m very proud to be a volunteer counsellor for St Catherine’s.

Fifteen years ago my husband died from an undiagnosed brain tumour, I was 37 years old and had three young children. I was totally devastated, lost and in shock. I had very little family support and the world seemed an overwhelming, frightening place.

I was lucky enough to be offered bereavement counselling from a hospice which was life changing for both myself and my children. It help me see that life can go on even though my life-path had changed out of all recognition. With the help from my bereavement counsellor I was able to see that although the path had changed it didn’t mean my life adventure had to end as well. 

Ten years later as my children were growing up and becoming more independent I reflected on starting a new career, one that would enable me to use my life experiences to hopefully help others who found themselves in a similar situation.

I signed up to a part time, three year Transactional Analysis Counselling course which would enable me to become a psychotherapeutic counsellor. I found the course enlightening and the new adventure begun! I’m thrilled to say I qualified in June this year. 

During my clinical year two Cathy Sosoli, the lead for the hospice’s Patient and Family Support Team at that time, came to the college and explained about the work that the volunteer student counsellors do at the hospice. I signed up straight away and was lucky enough to be offered an interview. I waited for a couple of weeks before I was given the happy news that I had been offered a placement to work at St Catherine’s.

The four weekend training course started in March 2018, and was incredible. I was, and still am, so impressed with the level of excellent training that these courses offer. The insight into illness and bereavement is amazing and I remembered how this had made me feel all those years ago. Over the next two years I’ve proudly worked with the most incredible people at the hospice. This includes patients and their families.

My work consists of either 6 to 9 weeks of 50 minute counselling sessions, these sessions used to be face to face, but since the COVID restrictions I now work from home and offer telephone sessions. This has been a challenge as I’ve had to hone another set of skills, being able to really hear not just people’s words, but their tones of voice and also their silences.

During the pandemic, people I’ve worked with have told me they’ve not had chance to fulfil their last wishes, to visit a special place, or to see their relatives abroad one final time. Many bereaved families have also told me how traumatic they’ve found the funerals of their loved ones, and not being able to hug anyone. Some of them have told me how they’ve had to go home to an empty house after their loved one’s funeral. It’s clear that human connection has really been missed, and the restrictions of the pandemic have made a truly traumatic time even harder.

I’m truly honoured to spend time with these very brave and strong people. I’m always touched by people’s life stories and how individual and unique everyone’s life has been.

St Catherine’s has remained so important over the last 8 challenging months, and each day it continues to provide endings for people in the best possible way, with respect, care and compassion. Through the pandemic, the medical team have carried on providing this incredible service, and I thought of all the staff at the hospice every Thursday night when I stood on my doorstep and clapped.

I’m constantly impressed by the feeling of warmth and empathy that is shown to everyone, from the minute you step in the front door at the hospice, or even when someone answers your telephone call. It’s always been a joy to work alongside the counselling team too. They work relentlessly and so patiently, sorting out clients for me, when I only had two afternoon per week that I could work, and my supervisor Nicola Peck has helped me all the way through my volunteering, with her support, encouragement and knowledge.

After two years and around 200 hours of student counselling I took my exam. I was elated when I received the news that I had passed. I can now start my new counselling career, and have decided that the hospice is an extremely important place for me, and I will continue to volunteer for them as long as they need me.

I know that I’m not on my own in the way I feel about St Catherine’s. Many of you who support the hospice will feel the same about their work, their warmth and their service. I know one thing for sure, that without all of you, supporting the hospice, it wouldn’t be here, so I’d personally like to thank you all for everything you do to support St Catherine’s, not only in my capacity as a volunteer, but also as that relative 15 years ago.”