When Michael’s wife Eileen died two and a half years ago, his world collapsed.
“My wife and I were married for 59 years,” he says. “People say your best friend is your wife, and she was mine. We did everything together; went everywhere together. Holidays – even shopping. When she passed away it was like losing one of my arms. She was my world, and I still miss her to bits.”
Michael knew he needed some form of counselling – to talk to someone about his feelings, and find an outlet for his grief. But, after enquiring with various charities and services, he found it was going to take months to be seen.
Then, serendipity stepped in. Because, as it happened, Michael’s daughter-in-law lived next to Jill – a volunteer at ellenor. On top of providing palliative and end of life care for patients with life-limiting illnesses, ellenor also supports the families of patients in a range of ways. Among these are bereavement support, counselling, chaplaincy and befrienders, as well as music, play, and complementary therapy.
For an 82-year-old man who’d just lost his best friend and life partner, it was a lifeline.
So, one Thursday morning, Michael headed down to the Glentworth Ex-Service Club on Lowfield Street to attend one of ellenor’s support groups, called ‘Bereavement Cuppas’.
With weekly or monthly dates – and venues across Dartford, Swanley, and Gravesend – Bereavement Cuppas allow people living with grief to come together over a hot drink. To share their experiences in a safe, supportive environment, and do so with people charting a similar course through grief.
“Initially, I didn’t fancy coming into a group,” Michael admits. “It didn’t appeal to me – I did it for my daughter-in-law. But coming down to ellenor was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.
“As soon as I walked through that door, Jackie took me to one side and I just bawled my eyes out. I said sorry, and she replied that we don’t use that word here. We’re all amongst friends, she said – and, if you want to have a cry, you can. That put me at ease, and then she introduced me to the group. From then on, I haven’t looked back.”
Along with ellenor’s Walk and Talk support group – a bimonthly 5.3-mile stroll with other people living with grief – Bereavement Cuppas provide an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere. Attendees can open up about their lost loved one and their experience of grief, or they can simply enjoy the company of others. Which, as Michael explains, is crucial.
“You lose your Mum, your Dad, your friends: so you’re no stranger to grief. But for me, the passing of my wife was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. To open that door and walk into an empty house; to get home and not have her there to talk to; it’s devastating. That’s the problem – you’re on your own. And when you’re sitting at home, alone, grieving? It’s not doing any good.