Grieving the loss of a loved one is what brings people to New Era, Brentwood and Billericay’s bereavement support group, but it is the support, friendship and laughter they find there that keeps them going to meetings.
Each two hour drop-in session offers an opportunity to natter with people in a similar situation, in a supported, informal atmosphere over a cuppa. Monthly afternoon meetings are held on the second Wednesday of the month at St George’s Church Hall. As ever, there were refreshments aplenty at January’s meeting as well as a celebration cake, marking the group’s 10th anniversary.
Managing Director of Bennetts Funerals, Jane Bennett said: “We started the group because we realised there was a need for support within the area.
“What is so fantastic is the support people give each other – they are their own success. They can pass onto new people the message that it will be alright, that their life will change and become different but there is still a life.”
A decade ago a handful of people attended the first meeting. More than 30 New Era members marked the group’s special anniversary, enjoying a slice of cake, taking part in a fun quiz and drawing a raffle. Importantly, there was ample time for chatting with friends.
Doreen Fairman from Basildon said: “It’s helped me tremendously. I think when you talk about what’s happened to you, you kind of get it off your chest.”
Doreen has been attending New Era for about five years, since the loss of Norman, her husband of 53 years, in 2010.
“Although you lose someone that’s very dear to you, it’s very hard at the time, there is a way to carry on your life if you get out and about.
“There are outings. We’ve seen a couple of shows. I’ve made friends. I’ve had to push myself to do things a little bit but it becomes second nature now,” added Doreen.
“You feel safe to open up. Another time you don’t have to say anything. You just have a cup of tea and it’s nice to meet people,” said Lynn Hailey from Hutton, who has been attending the group, after recently losing three close family members.
Janet Botwright of Bennetts runs the support group which offers empathy, trust and understanding. “I think most people feel supported by being in the company other people who understand there are good days and bad days. Dealing with anniversaries and birthdays can be really difficult.
“Friends will support in the short term but their lives carry on as before whereas the bereaved life is changed forever. And that’s what other members understand,”said Janet.
Father and daughter Roy and Jo Roper from Hutton have found the group welcoming and easy to talk to. Their first meeting was five months ago, after the loss of wife and mother, Viv, in June last year.
“It is hard the first week but here you feel comfortable talking to anybody,” said Roy.
Jo added: “You don’t feel silly or embarrassed. If you want to talk about your loss, if you feel sad, everyone has been through something similar.”
Meetings are free but a £1 donation is requested for refreshments.
Janet added: “The tea and coffee money goes towards hiring a coach for trips further afield once a year.
“We take people out to places of interest like garden centres, museums and anywhere the group expresses an interest in going. We organise meals out a couple of times a year too.
“We try to get people reconnected with life and get them to do things they perhaps wouldn’t do if they were at home on their own.”
Independently, New Era members have started organising a regular evening dining club.
A separate parents’ bereavement support group, Our Grieving Hearts, is also run by Bennetts. It meets on the first Monday evening of the month in Brentwood and second Monday afternoon in Billericay. Last year the group became part of the national charity for bereaved parents, Compassionate Friends.
“There was absolutely nothing out there for bereaved parents. Bennetts had the foresight to start a support group exclusively for anyone who has lost a child because it’s a very different type of bereavement.
“I came as a user of the group in 2011 when my daughter Emily died and I got so much from it that I wanted to reach out and offer that support to more people.
“We want to show newly bereaved parents of a child of any age, what hope looks like. You will have a life after the loss of your child but it will be different. It’s learning how to live the rest of your life without your precious child that is the challenge,” said Bennetts’ Bridget Holley.
© Wendy Pike, January 2017
This feature was previously published in The Brentwood Gazette
Bennetts Funerals (Brentwood & Billericay) www.bennettsfunerals.co.uk