A man in his 30s who lost his wife to Covid-19 is among the people who have received help from a dedicated helpline set up by Nottinghamshire Hospice to provide emergency bereavement support.
Stephen phoned the GriefLine after his wife Ruth died of Covid-19 aged just 38, leaving him feeling traumatised, grief-stricken and angry. Stephen and Ruth had been married for just over two years.
Ruth was receiving peritoneal dialysis treatment for kidney failure. She was keen to get a kidney transplant and following doctors’ advice, went into hospital in late March for a minor operation to install a line in her neck, which required her to be an inpatient for several days. Unbeknown to Stephen and Ruth, Covid-19 had already reached the ward, and although she tested negative before being discharged, she later developed symptoms, becoming so ill Stephen took her into hospital.
“Covid is a very debilitating illness. It all happened so quickly” Stephen says. “One moment she was healthy, then she was sleeping for 20 hours a day. It looked like she was getting better but she got much worse, so I was left with no option but to take her to hospital.”
“I got her into a wheelchair and kissed her goodbye before the doctor wheeled her away. I didn’t realise it would be our last kiss. The next time I saw her was when she was on the ventilator and her body was cold. I held her hand and talked to her in her last two hours alive in this world. The doctor let me play a tune so I played the song she walked down the aisle to at our wedding.”
Stephen, a student social worker currently on placement, received Ruth’s shielding letter from the government three days after she had died, and on the day of her funeral a box of food donations arrived.
The situation left Stephen with a bewildering mixture of emotions, exacerbated by the fact he could only have 10 people at the funeral, couldn’t hug his mum and dad, and couldn’t fulfil Ruth’s last wish of having the coffin carried high by pall-bearers. Stephen’s family live far away and social distancing rules mean he’s been largely reliant on virtual calls and online contact with friends and family for support.
“You need so much mental strength to even survive” he says. “It’s hard enough to be suddenly widowed, but to lose someone so young to Covid I’d say is the worst position you’ll ever find yourself in.”
“Calling the GriefLine definitely helped. It was good to have someone compassionately talk me through the service, contrasting from the cold people I was talking to whilst doing the ‘widow jobs.’ The lady actually listened to me non-judgmentally, then signposted a call to Wellness in Mind. She then called up again to confirm I’d got that call.”
The GriefLine advisor put him in touch with two organisations for ongoing support, Wellness in Mind and Young and Widowed.
Since GriefLine went live in May the team of trained advisers have linked callers with agencies including a helpline supporting former coalmining communities, various mental health services, and practical support including food parcels. It has also organised ongoing support with the hospice’s own bereavement counsellors. Everyone who calls the GriefLine within its opening hours receives a guaranteed call back within two hours.
The hospice – approached to set up GriefLine because of its expertise and experience in bereavement support – helps those who have lost family or friends due to the virus or through other causes during the pandemic. It also supports healthcare workers and care home staff who have seen large numbers of deaths over a short time span.
Nottinghamshire Hospice Chief Executive Rowena Naylor-Morrell says: “While support may be out there, it is disparate, uncoordinated and difficult to find in the moment of grief. GriefLine triages and connects those who need help with those able to give it.
“It’s a rapid in- the-moment service to help people in that moment of crisis. Most of those using the service will then be able to move into the natural grieving cycle without further support, but those seeking extra bereavement support are signposted to relevant services,” Rowena adds.
The hospice can refer people to a range of organisations from Age UK Silverline, the Children’s Bereavement Centre and Beyond Diagnosis to the Samaritans, faith groups and the Nottinghamshire Coronavirus Community Support hub.
For more information visit Nottinghamshire Hospice