Thoughts and insights from the Tailored Yarn team
5 Ways in which Bereavement Cafés can be helpful
It can be difficult to open up conversations about grief with others. Where do you start talking about something so difficult?
Bereavement cafés are free to attend and provide a place for anyone who is currently going through, or who, in the past (it doesn’t matter how long ago!) has gone through grief.
They are there for people to make connections and share experiences with other local people who may be going through similar occurrences of bereavement.
The cafés are an open, safe space for people to talk things through with each other, express themselves, and provide support to one another.
They allow room for people to build bonds, resilience and coping mechanisms for loss, whilst sharing a mutual sadness without judgement.
The cafés are run by warm and welcoming teams of trained volunteers who will have also dealt with bereavement themselves, in some form, and support those attending to participate in the conversation. These can be made up of members of charity support groups, healthcare professionals and simply members of the public who play their part as bereavement café facilitators.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown began in the UK, around March 2020, bereavement cafés had been deferred. Many had worked to move the support online, connecting virtually, in the hope that they would continue to be as helpful for people in need.
Now that lockdown measures are easing and the vaccination process is underway, bereavement cafés are looking to open up again for face-to-face meetings.
1. Sharing is caring
Grief can be confusing for both yourself and others in your life – especially if those in your circle haven’t experienced grief themselves.
This is how sharing grief can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you have people to lean on that you are close to, and may have also been close with the loved one you lost. On the other hand, they may not be sure of the right ways in how to give you comfort without being able to relate to your feelings and current state of mind. They could, albeit unintentionally, say or do the wrong things. It can be easy to take things the wrong way or become more emotionally sensitive during periods of grief, so sadly, it could make you feel worse.
This shouldn’t be used as a reason to withdraw from them, so continue to seek common ground in ways that you can, since they are only trying to help because they both love and care for you.
Grief can feel rather lonely, even with loved ones around. By sharing your sadness with other people who have had comparable encounters of loss too, can help. You may find that somebody who you barely know, but whose ears are open to listen, can be markedly valuable.
The majority of those grieving are going to need to release their story. And all those connective feelings that come with every part of it. Talking about everything out loud from start to finish will help you work through the motions of grief. Seek out people who can make you feel less alone.
It’s all about spending time with people you that allow you to be yourself, who you find support and comfort in, whilst taking some time out from those whom you feel you are expected to act happy around. Share that grief!
That’s the idea of bereavement cafés. When you speak with another person who has had a loss, there’s a direct bond.
2. Making Friends
Sometimes, death can hit home harder when you are lacking a support network, need a wider support network or the support network you have is not enough for your needs at this present time.
Still having that isolated feeling whilst you’re surrounded by people can be due to a loss of connection that we feel from those that we cannot relate to at that time.
Speaking to someone who is a stranger, but who has been confronted with a correlative heartache, can eventually become a friend. Sometimes the best friendships are formed when you share similar circumstances with that person.
Making new friends with ‘fellow grievers’ can be seen as a positive step that has come from loss.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you are forgetting your lost loved one and moving on completely. It is still a good idea to try to keep to a similar form of routine that you used to have when they were still alive.
However, these changes can be healthy and can become a part of the moving forward process. It can remind you that you need to live your life too, and you are seeking out fresh ways to do this.
Bereavement cafés can be a fantastic way to achieve new friendships and therefore new beginnings.
3. Escaping your four walls
It’s easy to slip into the common habit of isolating at home due to grief. When you’ve created a den for yourself wrapped up in your duvet, binge-watching your favourite series, it can seem like your only comfort – much like a break-up!
This behaviour can down to many reasons, such as low energy, low mood or even guilt. The mind can fool a person into believing that they should feel a sense of shame for enjoying themselves because their lost loved one cannot.
Self-isolation can also sometimes happen because those that you would usually spend time within your day-to-day life may not be especially helpful at times during this current grieving period.
Self-neglect can be unintentional and can simply happen because the person experiencing a period of grief often simple doesn’t care, or, in some circumstances, may not even notice. When the mind is under a lot of stress, it can make a person quite confused and dazed; the days can roll into one another and time can become difficult to track.
This doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t spend any time by yourself; sometimes we just need to be alone and reflect. This is not only necessary at times, but it’s all part of the process.
However, too much time alone can become unhealthy if you find yourself in a continual pattern. It can cause further damage to mental health and wellbeing; so it’s important to get that balance and recognise that self-care is a huge part of recovery.
Even getting yourself outside in the fresh air on the way to the bereavement café can help in itself. It can be especially helpful to take the most scenic route where possible. Nature can help by reducing feelings of fear and stress, whilst heightening more of those pleasant feelings.
You may feel comfortable at home, but if you can make it to one of these cafés, you may also find comfort. You don’t need to suffer alone.
The by-product of bereavement can cause disarray to aspects of physical health. You may have difficulty sleeping, digestive problems or frequent pains. You could also be more susceptible to illness, which is why it’s important to keep up nutrients for the body.
Sometimes it can be difficult to eat. Bereavement cafés can provide a safe space of gentle encouragement to help each other take a few bites, especially when distracted with the conversation, watching the world go by over a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake.
Some people might even just want to show up for the cake and then stay for the chatter! Bereavement café hosts offer nourishments to show that they want to take care of people. Food brings people together and provides a green light for people to know that they should be both enjoying life and celebrating it.
Grief, in some cases, can cause disruptions to the daily routine. The things that you would normally do in your day-to-day living can change. This could be how you would normally wake up, eat, or sleep at certain times, go about your daily tasks, or go out to work.
The brain can become overburdened with all the feelings that come with a loss, such as panic, stress, loneliness and upset. This ‘bereavement brain’ can cause a person to lose focus, due to cognitive functions becoming impaired. Things like memory, concentration, problem-solving, making judgments or decisions, and critical thinking can all become distorted.
Your calendar and ‘to-do’ list can go out the window since your mind can only seem to focus on the grief at the time. The first few weeks and months always seem to be the most difficult in terms of feeling detachment or in a ‘dream-like’ state – it can be draining. Right now, it may feel like you’re not really living life like others are. By recognising that every ‘baby step’ is a step towards healing, living will begin to improve.
Bereavement cafés can help to break the cycle of a disassociated routine due to the symptoms of grief. They can give a reason to get out of bed and provide a sense of responsibility that you need to fulfil. One of which, isn’t too demanding or stressful, such as work, which you may already be having time off for.
Many hospices run weekly drop-in sessions – it might be an idea to call around your most local hospices.
For lockdown periods, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is also a Facebook group Bereavement Café
You can also find an online Bereavement Café community local to you, for example, by visiting the main St Clare Hospice Facebook page. Once on the site, click on the ‘Groups’ tab to search.
The pandemic has placed additional pressure on the country’s hospices, but hospice teams have found ways to offer comfort to people just when it’s needed the most.