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“Although we can’t stop grief from happening, we can support each other through it”

If you read our blog post earlier in June, you’ll have heard that our monthly topic of awareness is loss. It’s something which affects many of our visitors at the Hub and comes in many different forms. Today’s blog post is written by guest writer, Anna Naylor, and focuses on grief.  

I was just seventeen when, after a year’s battle with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML), my brother died. AML is a blood cancer that affects the production of white blood cells and this case was particularly aggressive.  Its entrance into our lives was sudden and unwelcome. The year of treatment for my brother was riddled with hope when he went into remission. And then disappointment when he relapsed with a brain tumour. The AML entered his central nervous system and we lost him three days before Christmas, a year after initial diagnosis.

The grief that ensued was not a linear process but rather, a fluid experience. When you lose somebody so close to you, a lot changes. There are theories about grief that present it as a process of stages, but for me it wasn’t that straight forward or predictable.

At first, the hardest thing was coming to terms with what had happened. We live our lives watching these kinds of things happening to others and we never think it will happen to us. So when it did happen to me, it almost felt like an out of body experience as if I watching somebody else’s life and not my own. For a long time I felt relatively numb and I found it difficult to articulate and own my grief, which meant I had trouble expressing it. I also found the shift in family dynamic pretty difficult. Becoming an only child overnight was a big adjustment and impacted my relationship with my family.

My difficulty in processing the grief contributed to a general anxiety, which overwhelmed me immediately after my brother’s death. Thankfully, over time, I found the support and courage to explore the painful areas so that I could better understand what was going on for me. Consequently, I was able get help with those things and develop the tools I needed to build resilience to move forward.

Grief changes with time and different things are harder now.

The hardest thing today is not being able to ring my brother up and share life events with him. My husband never knew my brother and when we have children, they’ll be missing an uncle. It seems so cruel that he should be excluded from this chapter of my life and that nobody got a choice. I also sometimes feel afraid of reliving this grief and the thought of anybody else I love getting cancer.

Unfortunately, our western society isn’t well-versed in its understanding and handling of grief. Our ‘hold your cards close’ culture makes it a difficult and awkward topic for some.

However, grief happens to everybody at some point. Although we can’t stop that from happening we can support each other through it. I would start by suggesting that we change the phrase “Let me know if I can help” to “What can I do to help?”. We British folk are often too polite to directly ask for help. This phrasing makes it easier to give specific actions to those asking. It also helps those asking to sound sincere in their offer.

Things people did to support us included a meal rota where friends brought us dinner each night for a while. Practical, everyday things can take a backseat after loss and this is a simple gesture that makes a huge difference. Our community also helped us fundraise for Bloodwise to help others in my brother’s situation, which helped us to feel seen and thought of.

When it comes to supporting a friend/colleague, listening is powerful.

Grief can be a very lonely experience so just having someone to talk to can be cathartic. You don’t need to fix anything- just offering an ear and supportive words, free from judgement, is a huge help. Try not to let the fear of saying the ‘wrong’ thing hold you back from talking about it with your friend or colleague.  Remember, there’s very little you can do to make things worse. They’ll be glad you cared enough to approach it.

Even though it’s been a long time, I’m still learning how to support my family. Something that I’m learning is that grief looks different for everybody even if you’re in the same family, and that can be quite hard. Taking a step back and asking that question again, ‘what can I do to help?’ seems to be a good direction to go in.

If you’re going through grief, I would say that whilst the grief never goes away, you can get better at living with it. I’ve found that giving myself grace on tough days has been really helpful.

Self-care has been hugely important.

Sometimes that looks like a duvet day and ice cream. But more and more, I’m finding that self-care looks like reading a book, or cooking my favourite meal, and ultimately, equipping myself with the tools I need to handle things. Immediately after my loss, I benefited from a Macmillan counsellor who helped me learn how to label my emotions and explore them in a constructive way. I’ve since found that investing in integrative therapy was really helpful for me on my grief journey. After reflecting and pinpointing specific areas, I was able to work alongside some amazing women who have helped me learn to develop my resilience and EQ in response to the trauma and other unpredicted adversities that may occur. It’s an ongoing process and learning curve.

I have also found my faith to be a key part in finding comfort and strength when things were especially hard. It’s also helped me to see grief and loss in a new way – as an ongoing process – and that alleviates some of my fear and anxiety. There’s nothing quite like close community to encourage you and offer a listening ear.

C. S. Lewis said ‘no one ever told me that grief felt so like fear’.

He is spot on. But life and loss are a little less scary when you have compassionate and supportive people beside you. Whether that comes in the form of family, friends, counsellors, church, or the Hub, keep investing in your relationships. Although isolation sometimes feels easier, vulnerable and real relationships are an invaluable help in times of loss. You’re not alone and things will be alright again.

Written by Anna Naylor

Edited by Ella Green

 

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A day in the life of the Harrogate Hub – find out what happens behind the scenes!

Ever wondered what a day at the Hub looks like?! Well here’s a glimpse behind the scenes….
The day starts at 9am. 

I’m too short to reach the lock on the Hub front door, so I have to clamber up the wall slightly. (I get a few funny looks from passers-by.) Jo-Ann, the Hub Director soon joins me in the office and we begin with prayer to prepare us for the day ahead.

9.30am A day in life, Harrogate Hub, Biscuits

Our pastoral carers start to arrive. Today Gwen arrives first – she’s our biscuit-hero and she’s brought a new batch of biscuits for our visitors to enjoy. This makes me very happy (because I get to enjoy them too!) I recommend coming in to try one of her biscuits (or several!)…She’s become quite famous in Harrogate for her baking talents.

10am

Laughter drifts down the stairs from the middle floor. You can always tell when Lynda and Benny have arrived in the building -they bring a lot of joy with them! They are both pastoral carers and they’ve come to set up for the “Real You” course they’re running.

Our regular visitors arrive soon after for the course. These are a group of women who have faced huge challenges in their lives, and each of them have begun a healing journey at the Hub; some have been coming for a few weeks, and some for months. They’ve joined the course to explore questions of identity, faith and self-worth. It’s been amazing to see them grow in self-esteem and friendship over the weeks and months.

Meanwhile, downstairs in our welcome centre, visitors start to arrive for pastoral care. Gwen, Jo-Ann and I are busy welcoming people through the door and making cups of tea and coffee. There’s a real buzz as people start to engage in lively conversation; people are smiling and starting to open up. Jo-Ann sits on the sofa with a young woman having a heart-to-heart, and on our table, we’re talking about our hobbies, whilst enjoying some free entertainment from a curious toddler who’s taking in all the new sights and sounds.

Some have come to the Hub simply for company and friendship, others have stories of grief, mental illness, abuse, and hardship to share and are in need of a listening ear, and some come wanting to find out what activities are being offered by local community groups and churches. It’s good to see people’s spirits lifting as they receive kindness and attention; it feels like there’s a real sense of hope and warmth in the room. We have 7 visitors in all, one of whom has returned specially to thank us for the way we’ve helped someone in her family.

12.00

It’s time to close for lunch (although I’m not massively hungry due to my biscuit consumption…) Once everyone has left, Gwen, Jo-Ann and I spend a few minutes praying. Some of the stories we hear are really heartbreaking and so our prayer time gives us a chance to lay down any burdens we’re carrying.

Someone knocks on the Hub door even though we’re closed and Jo-Ann has to apologise and ask him to come back at 2pm. We’re in the process of rearranging our pastoral care timetable to ensure that we can help as many people as possible. It’s always hard having to turn people away, but we haven’t yet got enough volunteers to be able to keep the Hub open all day. (If you’d like to become a pastoral carer, please get in touch!)

1pm

After lunch, Jo-Ann heads off for a meeting with the Harrogate Borough Council to discuss how we can bless them as they serve town. It’s an exciting opportunity to find out how we can work together to make sure that no one in our community feels forgotten, hopeless, or isolated.

2pm

At the Hub, we have a slightly quieter afternoon. Carol and Sherry are our pastoral carers for the 2-4pm session. A couple of people have made appointments with them and come in for a confidential conversation in the little room at the back. And one of our regular visitors also comes in for a cuppa and a chat; our volunteers are helping her build her confidence and take steps towards her goals at a time when things are changing in her life.

Whilst Carol and Sherry welcome visitors downstairs, I spend the afternoon in the office to plan a talk about the Hub that I’m giving at a local youth group. I’ll be sharing with them about our new youth project and asking them to join us in fundraising for it. The plan is to provide pastoral care to vulnerable young people on an evening at the Hub. If your youth group is interested in fundraising for the project or if you’d like to become a pastoral carer for the project, we’d love to hear from you.

3pm

We’re visited by one of the staff from Harrogate theatre. They’re putting on a show, ‘100 ways to tie a shoe lace’, which explores memory loss in a light-hearted and real way. It’s great to hear about shows like this, which help tackle issues that can sometimes be stigmatised in our community. Part of my job, as Charity Officer is to help raise awareness of the struggles faced by people in our town.

Harrogate has a ‘Happygate’ façade, which sometimes makes it hard for those who are struggling to seek the support they need. It’s easy to feel like everyone else is leading the perfect, idyllic Harrogate life, and so part of our mission at the Hub is to encourage people in our community that it’s ok to ask for help.

Everyone goes through seasons of great difficulty and we’re here for people whatever challenges they’re facing.

4pm

The Hub closes its doors, and Richard, one of our dedicated volunteers, starts cleaning and tidying up. I have a little chat with Carol and Sherry before they head off.

5pm

A day in the life, Harrogate Hub, open doorI’ve finished my work in the office and Richard has made the Hub look all sparkly, clean and tidy! On my way out, I clamber up the wall again to lock the Hub door (cue more funny looks from passers-by). It’s been a busy day, but a very positive one. It’s so encouraging to see that more people are hearing about the Hub’s services and finding a place of community and hope here.

If you could help us spread the word about the Hub, please drop in and pick up some of our posters or bookmarks. Or if you’re online, have a look at our social media pages, follow us, and share our news with your friends. Together, we can shape a community, where no one has to suffer alone and where everyone feels loved and valued.

twitter.com/thehubHG1   www.instagram.com/theharrogatehub/   www.facebook.com/TheHarrogateHub/

Written by

Ella Green

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“Grief comes in many guises” – Living through loss

This month our topic of awareness is loss. Please feel free to join in the conversation on social media. We’re going to be talking about how we can support each other through heartbreaking times. 

Grief comes in many guises. It can seep into our lives like a mist that gradually burns away the light or it can drop onto us wiping out our ability to make any sense.

Why…? How…? What…? We ask ourselves and others questions that bring us no comfort, no release. None of us are immune and how we find peace and reconciliation is a true test of our essence of being.

I recall a two-year period in my life where my losses were many. One tumbled after another. Grief seared into my heart and soul like white heat as my successful career was ended, my lifestyle interrupted, my status and reputation taken away, my friends left me, my health was shredded by an auto-immune disease and my home sold. I lived for quite a while in anger, disbelief and despair. Pain filled me emotionally and physically. I thought it would never end.

So much loss in such a short timespan undid me; everything I thought I was and everything I had built lay broken!

If I was to survive such devastation I needed to reach out and find the Well of Life. Only the Life Giver himself could hold me in his hands, breathe a new spirit into me and re-shape this broken pot of clay. Thankfully, I found new friendships that wrapped around me giving me room to grieve, holding me in their strength until I began to smile again and feel a renewed spirit within me.


At the Hub, we see many people who have gradually fallen into a mist that shrouds them.

They are unable to see the brightness of day and the colours of joy. They are feeling robbed of energy and zeal for living. They are bound by sadness and existing on emptiness. In essence some of the people we see are experiencing a hopelessness from loss and loneliness.

Some people come to the Hub for company and a cuppa. They seek eyes that shine in their direction and ears attending to their voices. They seek a supporting smile and comforting noises that say “I understand” and “it’s okay to feel like you do”.

A wife’s memory fading with dementia or Alzheimer’s leads one man to seek the company of friends at the Hub. He takes a short break from caring, to engage in lively conversation.

The death of a close friend led someone into the comforting, confidential conversation of a Hub pastoral carer.

The oncoming loss of her home brought despair to a woman seeking help and intervention so that her family did not suffer.

Frequently, we are visited by people who have lost their livelihood, lost relationships, lost their health. At their lowest level, they reach out to the Hub for a gentle hand of friendship.

Life can be renewed!

Reaching out to be welcomed as you are and comforted by those who know how you feel will bring you back into the light and enable you to see colour once again. I promise, because I know!

Written by

Jo-Ann Hughes, Executive Director, Harrogate Hub

Photo credit here , photo edited by Ella Green

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