The buddy group initiative is for bereaved carers of those who have died after being treated by Weston Hospicecare.

Each group has between 10-12 people involved and after a decade of the initiative running this number has been deemed the sweet spot for the overall success of a group.

Too many people is considered “overwhelming”, too few is too “intense”.

That’s the view of now buddy group facilitator Stephanie Hancorn, who originally hesitated to attend the sessions at the hospice after the loss of her husband.

She said: “Every focus of attention is who you are caring for whilst they are unwell, be it your husband, mother, brother or whoever.

“Everything is focused on them and you tend to be on the outside and lose contact with the outside world because when people come to the house they are coming to see the person who is ill and not necessarily coming to see you.

“When that person has died, you are left on your own so the idea of buddy groups is to get together a group of people who are in a similar situation. We usually have anywhere between 10-12 people in a buddy group because too many people in a group is overwhelming and too few is too intense so we try to balance it out.

“One of the worst things of all, when you have lost somebody, is someone saying ‘I know how you’re feeling’ and they don’t, they don’t have a clue.”

Discussing her own experience of how she got involved with the buddy group initiative, Stephanie said: “I joined originally through a case of ‘I’ll go if you go’ with a friend, it is basically through the nurses and the bereavement teams to encourage people to come and I now know it isn’t for everybody.

“My wonderful title is group facilitator, and if the bereavement team identify someone who they believe would benefit from attending a buddy group, they are invited to attend.

“Myself and others who help run the buddy groups make everyone feel welcome and integrated as quickly as possible. We always hold group sessions on a Monday, which is deliberate.

“Sunday’s are very difficult for just one person, so we keep them to Monday’s to encourage them to think there’s something on the calendar, there’s somewhere to go on a Monday.

“My role is to let people know they are not forgotten, to get them chatting, to reinforce all discussions are confidential, there’s no embarrassment but it is also a chance to see if someone isn’t coping very well and potentially seek further counselling. Otherwise, it is purely social.

“As a carer, you sometimes feel guilty and in my case, I have had thoughts of ‘should I have given my husband an extra pill, should have I given him the morphine more regularly for example. Would one extra dose have made any difference?.’ The other thing is when people say ‘why don’t you go out for half an hour?’ You then go out for half an hour and I did feel guilty. Within these groups, it gives you a chance to put these feelings to rest.”

However, by Stephanie’s own admission she says it isn’t for everybody.

She said: “I have had four people come once, they don’t like it and they go again. Unfortunately it is predominantly women but we do get men but generally, men find it a little more difficult to talk about their feelings.

“We do find men benefit from attending our groups, I tell the story of a couple of chaps who joined a group and they were hesitant of coming back etc. One gentleman was a keen fisherman and the other one said ‘I’ve never been fishing’ and now they are fishing buddies. If they hadn’t of met at that buddy’s group then it wouldn’t have happened.”

Weston Hospicecare also runs a Men In Sheds programme which encourages men to come into a newly-built DIY shed in the garden of Jackson-Barstow House with the idea of providing an environment for men to feel more comfortable sharing how they are feeling and subsequently accessing any support they need.

But it was the fear of the unknown which almost stopped Stephanie from attending her buddy group. She still meets with the buddy group she was part of in 2012 and says the groups provide a perfect platform for life without loved ones who have died.

She said: “You all feel differently but you all have similar pains. The idea is to bring everyone together, give them a cup of tea or coffee and just chat about normal things. But if there are tears, then there are tears, there’s no embarrassment.

“It is a social group, not a bereavement group. After people get together, if they then would like to go off and do something in a group or go for lunch we encourage that.

“Buddy group 4 decided after a few sessions to take themselves out of the hospice. All of our groups meet at the hospice but they decided that there were too many bad memories and they decided as a group to remove themselves from the hospice and meet elsewhere.

“They meet every fortnight for lunch, one of them has recently got married and we were all invited.

“They still happily meet as a group outside of the hospice, but they wouldn’t have been a group if they hadn’t originally met at the hospice as part of the buddy group programme.

“That first step through the door is the hardest step of all because you are going into a room full of strangers. But I still happily meet with people from the buddy group I attended which started in 2012.”

(Pictured above – Weston Hospicecare’s Buddy Group members enjoy their Christmas get-together.)

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