After the loss

Shelley Kuecks is there to help those suffering from a deep personal loss cope with their grief. - Andrew Leong
Shelley Kuecks is there to help those suffering from a deep personal loss cope with their grief.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Cowichan Valley Hospice Society headquarters is warm and welcoming

Ambient music plays in the background as the receptionist offers a cup of tea.

It’s just the place to visit when you are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Five hospice staff and 140 trained volunteers offer caregiving, support and companionship to people who have been given a terminal diagnosis, and those grieving a death.

Shelley Kuecks, the client services co-ordinator for the Cowichan Valley Hospice Society, meets with newcomers to the hospice. She listens to their stories, then pairs them with volunteers who provide companionship as they work through their grief.

Kuecks has counselled clients for five years with the non-profit charity. She recognizes how difficult it is to cope with death, especially after the initial shock.

“Grief looks different for different people. At the beginning, there is a buffer. You are in shock, which is normal, and it can be helpful. It protects you from the intense emotions and helps you get affairs in order. After a loss there are people around, taking care of you, giving you food, inviting you for dinner. Then they fade away and you are left alone.”

Kuecks said no matter how much you prepare for a loved one’s death, it is still a difficult time, even when you know it’s coming.

“I’ve had clients say, ‘But I knew. We’ve had two years to prepare for this.’ You can prepare as much as you want but the reality doesn’t hit until they are gone. There’s an emptiness in your everyday routine. This can be quite a bit of shock for some people even though others may not understand.”

Kuecks said death and grief brings up intense emotions that some people don’t know how to respond to. She offered advice on what not to say.

“In our society, people are uncomfortable with grief. You would not believe the number of people who have been told ‘It’s been six months, you should be moving on.’ But they are just trying to say something to comfort you. When someone says, ‘I know exactly how you feel,’ it makes the grieving person shut down. There is no way you can know how someone feels, even if their loss is the same as yours.”

Alternatively, Kuecks said there are things you can do to support a friend or family member who is grieving. It can be difficult for someone who is dealing with a loss to know what they need, so be specific about what you can offer them.

“It’s helpful for someone to say, “I can drive you on this day, or bring you food, what would you like? You are keeping within your boundaries and clear about how you can help.”

Whatever the case, don’t jump in and try to solve their problem. Hospice volunteers learn this, among other things, during their training before being paired with hospice clients for one-on-one companionship or in group sessions.

Kuecks said many people find support from family members or friends when they are grieving a loss. But for some, family dynamics are such that they don’t have someone who will listen to them and comfort them. That’s where the hospice can help.

“A good time to come in would be in the beginning of any situation. You learn about what we offer for when you feel like you might need something from us. Sometimes people come to us way after the loss, too. Something comes up and they realize they haven’t dealt with it. We try to work with what people bring.”

Dealing with grief:

Kuecks offered insight into understanding your grief and that of others:

“There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some people need to express themselves to others, while others keep it much to themselves. Some find ways to keep themselves busy, while others want to deal with it head-on. It’s often a mixture of these and more.

If you are grieving:

Be kind and compassionate with yourself. Loss can change your life dramatically and it can take what feels like a very long time to find a new normal.

Be around supportive and accepting people. Seek out more structured support if you are concerned about your behaviour or  feelings, or if you are overwhelmed.

How you can better understand and support someone who is grieving:

Acknowledge the loss, be there to talk about the person who has died if the grieving person wants that.

Understand everyone’s grief is unique and individual. Do not compare your losses to theirs.

Get information about grief so you can help them understand what they may be going through.

Don’t try to make everything better for them; just be there for them.

Be specific about how you can help.

Listen, listen, and listen some more.

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