Market House / Emotional support when it matters

Shetland Bereavement Support Service volunteers (left to right): Linda Massie, Magdalena Gibson, Jim Shepherd, Ellen Hughson and Gwen Williamson.
Shetland Bereavement Support Service volunteers (left to right): Linda Massie, Magdalena Gibson, Jim Shepherd, Ellen Hughson and Gwen Williamson.

DEALING with a bereavement is something that most of us will have to face at some point in our lives. Grief can take many forms, and issues relating to a bereavement can impact people in complex ways, writes Louise Thomason.

Shetland Bereavement Support Service (SBSS) can offer support and counselling for anyone affected by bereavement.

A member of Voluntary Action Shetland, the charity was set up in 2007 after a Shetland family struggled to find bereavement support. The service is based at Market House and works to promote awareness and good practice in bereavement care in Shetland by providing counselling, information, training and education.

Support can come in the form of one-to-one counselling sessions with trained volunteers, telephone counselling, or as a signposting service to other relevant organisations and bodies.

SBSS chairwoman Rita Rendall said: “Bereavement is not just about feeling sad because somebody has died. The death is often a catalyst for strong emotions to emerge and people might find themselves questioning relationships within families, and how they’re going to cope on their own without the person who has died.

“It’s a natural process, and most of us will work through it in our own time. Sometimes when there’s a lot of things going on, bereavement can become complicated and people may find that they struggle to make sense of things. It’s at that point we would encourage people to come and talk things through with a bereavement support worker.”

SBSS has a bank of volunteer support workers. Volunteers must have a minimum of a certificate in counselling, and undertake specialist bereavement training by SBSS.

Rita said: “The majority of our volunteers have a diploma or degree in counselling. After they’ve completed the specialist SBSS training they can offer bereavement counselling, exploring a deeper level of feelings and emotions surrounding death, grief and loss.

“Anniversaries, Christmas and special dates can be the times that are difficult for people. If, after receiving support from SBSS you find yourself struggling on these occasions, then people can contact the service again.”

SBSS works with other organisations to support clients, and for the past two years has worked with Clan, Shetland Carers Group and Shetland Sands, the stillbirth and neo-natal death charity.

This year the charity received almost £140,000 in Big Lottery funding, meaning they can expand their services. They are keen to recruit and train more support workers, and will be looking to provide counselling training to allow those without a counselling background who would like to volunteer the opportunity to gain a certificate in counselling first. There is also funding for specialist training to work with bereaved children.

Currently, however, SBSS would like to recruit more people that already have a counselling background.

Future plans also include more training and continued professional development for current volunteers, and piloting a scheme of memory boxes for families struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one.

Administration assistant, Ellen Hughson said: “The memory box project came about as families were approaching us – they’d had a family bereavement, and were looking for reassurance and guidance rather than seeking one to one counselling for the children or themselves.

“[Questions like] how do we speak to our children? What should we be saying? What’s right to say? What shouldn’t we say? Should we be talking about it? I’m a bit worried about them, is this normal behaviour? So we came up with the idea of making a memory box.”

The boxes will contain resources and activities to help the family work through their feelings. Items such as notebooks or jars to contain feelings, teddy bears for younger children to talk to if they feel they can’t talk to an adult, and age appropriate books along with information sheets and suggested family activities.

Ellen explained: “The idea is it gets the family engaging in a safe, familiar environment, and talking about the bereavement. They can put things in the box, and then keep it as a keepsake.

“The children hopefully will [then] know how to talk about a bereavement rather than bottling up their feelings. It will help children process bereavement in a positive way rather than being a negative experience, where the family is not talking and unsure what to say to who in case they cause upset.”

People can access the SBSS service by referring themselves, or referrals can be made from healthcare practitioners. All it takes is a phone call with your name and address and a form requesting some basic details will be sent out to you. You can then be matched with a support worker.

Rita said: “There’s a lot of people who feel that they have to be the strong one in the family and they’re the one that supports everybody else, but it’s important if you’re the resilient one that you can recognise as well when you have a need and know you can speak to somebody about it.”

SBSS said they would like to thank VAS for their continued support, guidance and advice, and the use of the rooms at Market House, along with thanks to those who have generously donated to the service. Without this support the service wouldn’t be able to continue.

SBSS can be reached at Market House, by calling 01595 743933 or by emailing