– Claire Barrow, KeyRing Living Support Network
I was asked to run a session at a local KeyRing hub after one of the people supported by the organization passed away. I’ve experienced grief in my own life and knew that some of the people would be terribly upset and others would be reminded of past trauma. I wanted the session to allow time for reflection and to give people the opportunity to support each other. Everyone who attended the session got support from KeyRing to live independently in the community.
A little about me
About ten years ago, Doctors found a brain tumour. For one reason or another, it wasn’t diagnosed until I was found fitting on the floor, and things were serious for a while. Luckily, the tumour was removed successfully. But I’ve spent the past ten years (re)learning lots of skills that I’d come to take for granted, like walking and talking. I’ve had to build my independence and learn to ask for help when I need it.
I’ve gradually increased my confidence and overcome periods where I’ve struggled to get out of bed. Now I’m sharing my passion for poetry and stories to help people express themselves.
It was as I sat in my wheelchair, having undergone many surgeries, that I suddenly thought, “Do you know what it’s like I’m sat under an umbrella. An umbrella that has holes in it”. It got me thinking about ways to mend my umbrella. I went through and named the holes. Over time my umbrella became whole again. I got the support that I needed, I overcame fears, and I overcame the anger that came with having been so ill. My umbrella is a patchwork, but it keeps me dry. Every time I repaired a hole, it got stronger, and I got better at looking after it.
This same approach can be used to help people deal with grief. It’s a hole in your umbrella, and we may never fix it completely, but by recognizing that it’s there and talking about it, we can start on that journey.
I shared my story and this poem with the people in the group:
My umbrella has holes
I looked for you today, but you were not there
I wanted to hear your voice once more, all the funny things you used to say, it seems like only yesterday.
At first, I cried because I knew it’s not healthy to keep things bottled up
All my emotions kept filling up
Then I wondered what I could do to keep the happy memories I have of you.
You may be gone, but I keep you in my heart; thinking of you means we are never apart.
An umbrella is something that everyone can relate to. I am not saying that you can mend holes when somebody dies, but thinking about those holes can help us find healthy ways to deal with our grief. The holes are our feelings, and by sharing those feelings, we can make those holes a little easier to manage.
I asked people to share their feelings and memories. This also led to people talking about less positive ways to deal with grief. We’d all dealt with lots of grief. It was important to acknowledge these past experiences as it helped us realise that they were not helpful.
We agreed to write down some of our feelings and put them into a memory box. Some people wanted to write their memories, and others wanted to write messages of support. Whatever people wanted to share was ok. We helped each other with this, as some of us are better at writing than others. We talked about other ways to share things. This could be using voice messages or sharing pictures or drawings.
One member of the group, Bernie, wrote:
‘May the years to come be filled with all these things:
Abundance of happiness
Blessings that warm your life and make warm your life and make you smile
Friends and loved ones by your side
People who are going to treasure every memory they are to make with you’
Another member, Barbara, wrote:
‘He was a friendly friend, and he made me happy. He came on trips to Blackpool and Heaton Park.’
At the end of the session, we made sure that people were receiving the right support to deal with their own personal situation. We agreed that we would decorate the memory box together next week.
Written by Claire Barrow