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Baby Loss Awareness Week

As part of our month raising awareness of loss, we want to look at the experience of baby loss suffered by many in our community. If you read our blog last week, you’ll be aware that the 9th of October marks the beginning of Baby Loss Awareness Week, and so today we’re hearing from Tanya Allen, manager at Reflect.

It’s great to know that we can signpost our visitors to Reflect’s fantastic services. They are a local charity providing a free support service in North Yorkshire for anyone facing a Pregnancy Choice and for those struggling after experiencing Pregnancy Loss from any cause. We asked Tanya to share more about Reflect’s work…

Could you tell us about the support you offer at Reflect?

Reflect offers help to anyone facing a pregnancy choice. We offer free pregnancy testing with trained advisors and whatever the result we can help you explore your feelings and options without any pressure. At Reflect, we provide information on parenting, adoption and abortion. We offer post-abortion support for anyone struggling after having a termination.

Reflect also provides care and support to anyone who has experience of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or stillbirth.

A pregnancy loss at any stage of pregnancy or soon after, can leave a woman or man feeling overwhelmed with unanswerable questions and grief.

A sense of isolation and loss are common and may leave you feeling ‘out of step’ with events. Reflect can help work through the emotions that surround the loss in a safe and compassionate environment. We allow time to express pain and disappointment and support for as long as is necessary.

What are you doing for Baby Loss Awareness Week?

Baby Loss Awareness Week is held from the 9th to 15th October and as part of this Reflect is hosting our second ‘light a candle’ vigil at St. Peter’s Church in Harrogate on Tuesday 9th October from 1pm until 2.30pm.

Everyone is welcome to come along and light a candle, write a message and spend as long as they wish remembering a baby lost at any stage of pregnancy or sooner after. There will also be trained advisors ready to listen if you would like to talk.

What would you suggest to someone going through grief, especially the grief of baby loss?  

Grief is normal and is a process of emotional suffering usually caused by the loss (or perceived loss) of someone or something that is important to us. Following pregnancy loss, grief is the release of sadness at the loss of the baby, all that might have been and potentially a bit of themselves. Grief often involves initial shock, then sadness and anger or fear, before moving forward into acceptance. However even months or years after the loss someone can still on occasions be overcome with grief.

Grief is a uniquely personal experience and how you deal with having a baby loss is incredibly personal. I would encourage anyone struggling after pregnancy loss to seek support – to talk to someone and know that it’s ok to seek professional support from someone trained in bereavement support. It is helpful to explore your feelings about the loss and to give yourself permission to grieve. Doing something to remember your baby by can often be helpful. This could include naming your baby, writing a letter or poem, drawing a picture or choosing something to remember them by e.g. a ring or necklace, planting a tree or making a memory box.

What kinds of support do you offer to help people through the experience of loss? 

We offer a structured support programme called ‘The Journey’ to enable someone to come to terms with their loss. The Journey course is a series of around 10 sessions exploring the emotional, physical and spiritual effects of pregnancy loss and has proved to be life-changing for those who have completed the programme at Reflect. We look at the different stages of the grieving process and help to work through all the different emotions that may come up such as anger, sadness, guilt and grief.  We offer the Journey programme one-to-one and for couples.

Losing a baby under any circumstance and at any stage of pregnancy can cause a great deal of suffering for the mother or father, and at Reflect we are here to provide space and time to work through that suffering.  We want to give hope of coming to a place of acceptance and being able to move forward. One client said:

I found it very helpful to have a safe space to talk… [Reflect] has really helped me through the most difficult period of my life in a way that has made me stronger and happier than before.

A loss may have been recent or many years ago. Someone may have experienced one loss or several. All Reflect volunteers are trained in our specific pregnancy loss support and all receive regular, ongoing, supervision & training. Emma, one of our volunteers, described her experience of helping a client “It’s wonderful to see the person change in front of you… no longer overwhelmed by sadness but accepting the miscarriage as part of her life journey”

What advice would you give to someone supporting a friend or family member through loss?

Many of our clients wish that friends and family would be able to talk to them about their loss, to ask them about their experience and to ask how they are. If a baby has been named please do use it. Often people also wish that their friends were normal around them and invite them to events, even if they say no. Also, practical support can be helpful, especially if they have other children. Ask them “What can I do to help?” and ask them again in a few days and weeks’ time.

All Reflect’s services are free and confidential. If you would like any further information or if you would like to make an appointment you can contact us via email on enquiry@reflectharrogate.co.uk, visit our website at www.reflectsupport.co.uk or call us on 01423 206710.

 

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Written by Tanya Allen

Edited by Ella Green

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Creating a safe community where we can talk about loss

As October begins, it’s time to start thinking about our next topic of awareness, and this month we’re looking at loss and how we can create a safe, supportive community for people going through some of life’s biggest difficulties.

This subject is particularly relevant after we focused upon the challenges faced by elderly people in September. Thank you so much to everyone who joined us for our Dementia Awareness Workshop or supported the event in some way. Many of the consequences of ageing (such as the death of friends, a deterioration in health, less independence) can lead to feelings of loss.

Loss is a universal experience and affects people of all ages. We see many visitors at the Hub who have faced loss in some form or another, whether it’s loss of health, relationships, a loved one, or financial security, and the list goes on.

We’d particularly like to start a conversation around pregnancy and baby loss this month. The 9th of October marks the beginning of Baby Loss Awareness Week, which is led by Sands, the UK stillbirth and neonatal death charity, in collaboration with over 60 charities in the UK.

Baby Loss Awareness Week

Sands explain that “Baby Loss Awareness Week is an opportunity:

  • for bereaved parents and families across the world to commemorate their babies’ lives
  • to break the silence around pregnancy or baby loss in the UK
  • to ensure all bereaved parents in the UK get the best possible care, wherever they live, when they need it.”

Reflect is a fantastic charity in Harrogate that supports people facing pregnancy loss. Keep your eyes peeled, as we’ll be sharing more about their work later this month.

There are many other support agencies doing great work in our town. The Harrogate Borough Council has put together a really helpful list of the different kinds of local bereavement support available: you can read it over on their website.

It’s ok not to be ok

There are also two other awareness days coming up this month that we’d like to remember. It’s both “World Smile Day” (5th October) and Mental Health Day (10th October), which may seem like a strange combination in the same month! Whilst smiling has been shown to improve mental health and can stimulate happy thoughts, a smiley face can easily become a mask to cover up negative feelings.

We say this a lot, but we want really want people to know … it is ok not to be ok.

This is especially important to say in a place like Harrogate, (sometimes nicknamed “Happygate”) where we are often expected to have an affluent and idyllic lifestyle, making it even harder to be vulnerable about life’s struggles. (We’ve written more about the ‘Happygate façade’ recently over on the Harrogate Girl blog.)

World Smile Day began as a way of encouraging people to do small acts of kindness to make someone smile. Why not join us on the 5th, and do a random act of kindness? We’d love to hear what you get up to! Perhaps you know someone who has recently been bereaved or is going through a tough time, and would appreciate being treated or receiving a card.

If you’re wondering how to support a friend through loss or grief and how you can create a safe space for them to be themselves, it’s worth taking a read of Anna Naylor’s insightful piece on this subject for our blog earlier this year:

“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.”

If you’re facing loss yourself and need someone to talk to, or don’t know where to turn, please drop into the Hub for a chat with our trained pastoral carers. We are here to support you and walk alongside you through the dark and difficult times in life.


Please comment and share your thoughts. Do you think Harrogate is a supportive community? And let us know what you get up to on World Smile Day over on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Thank you for joining in the conversation!
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Journeys at the Harrogate Hub – insights from Jo-Ann, the Director

Sarah’s* Journey

Sarah came to the Hub a year ago. She was very honest about her mental health difficulties and found engaging in social situations extremely challenging. Sarah needed to feel safe. Her diagnosis of her mental disorder is characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to understand reality. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, hearing voices that others do not, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and a lack of motivation.

Since attending the Hub, Sarah has become more relaxed and has a greater sense of peace. She says she feels valued and accepted, safe and peaceful. Without the Hub Sarah says her life is fraught with loneliness which isolates her with her voices. Sarah has increased motivation and engages well with pastoral carers at the Hub. Sarah is not as confused as she used to be and regularly tells us she is happy and well.

Sarah’s journey is a long one with carers at the Hub. They are walking beside her, enabling her to feel loved, valued and secure. Without this she would be continually filled with anxiety and confusion. Instead she has found compassion, love and a safe space.


Ben* started his journey with the Hub over a year ago.

Ben was signposted to us by his CPN. He arrived one day feeling very subdued and suicidal. Life for Ben is not straightforward. His story is one of loss, betrayal, illness and breakdown. Ben is in his fifties. He lost all real purpose in his life when he became ill and his wife began seeing someone else while continuing to live in the family home. Ben’s story is one of confusion and sorrow as he comes to terms with his loss; the loss of his physical health, his mental illness, and the love of his life abusing his situation. She is verbally aggressive and shows no care for his feelings. Unable to make clear decisions and being too unwell to take any action, Ben has suffered greatly. Each week he has sought strength form the pastoral carers at the Hub.

Over the weeks and months, Ben has begun to understand God’s love for him. He is taking strength from beginning a new journey to a new life, even though the old life is still very present. The Hub and its carers are providing a strength that is gradually enabling Ben to see beyond his current situation. He is realising there is a better future ahead.

We continue to support Ben each week on this journey to wellness. He no longer feels his life is hopeless but is now more hopeful, but remains quite fearful of his future. As he gets stronger he is beginning to accept that he is worth so much more than he thought when he first came to us for help. He no longer feels despair.


William and his wife Louise* have recently moved into the area to be close to family.

Louise has dementia and William called into the Hub to find out what support was available for them in the district. He spoke of how lonely he was and how difficult it was for him to have time to do things and go shopping or do the banking. He was lonely for conversation too. Louise loved being in the company of others and engaging in crafts.

The Hub was able to signpost him to several day centres for people with dementia thanks to the work of Dementia Forward; talk to him about Caring for the Elderly and their fun day’s out; and tell him of a private care provider working in the area who could provide respite when he needed to go out.

William was delighted that there was so much in the district to help him care for Louise. He left feeling both relief and joy. We asked him to call in again for a cuppa and conversation as we would be happy to see them both again.


Some of our journeys are very long as we walk with people trying to rebuild their lives from painful and often very messy beginnings.

We are reminded that Jesus never gives up on us. It cost him all he had to walk life’s pathway with us.

“If your brother asks you for your coat,” Jesus advised, “give him your tunic as well. If you ask God for a fish, would he give you a stone? Go and do likewise.”

So here at the Hub we do. We journey with the lost, the lonely, the broken and marginalised for as long as it takes and we are making a difference.

If after reading these journeys you would like to volunteer to be a pastoral carer at Harrogate Hub, please get in touch with us as we would love to hear from you. We provide training and fellowship as you journey with us.

Email: harrogatehub@gmail.com  Tel: 01423 369393

* names have been changed for confidentiality

 

Written by Jo-Ann Hughes, Executive Director, Harrogate Hub

Edited by Ella Green

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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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“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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