For over a decade I have represented clients with terminal illnesses and helped families who have lost loved ones. It recently became apparent to me that other than my own personal experiences I have never received any formal training on how to support clients who are grieving.
As solicitors we tend to deal with facts and part of our job is to deliver those facts to clients. However when dealing with grieving families this factual approach can come across as detached and aloof causing further upset. With this in mind I decided to book myself on to a course with Cruse Bereavement Care, a charity which helps individuals come to terms with grief.
With no idea what to expect, I arrived at the course held in Manchester on 11 March 2014. There were 10 people attending ranging from youth workers, health professionals, undertakers and professional coaches. The breadth of experience from different backgrounds really helped the whole group to see grief from a variety of perspectives.
The course was led by Barbara Rosenthal who is a national trainer. Barbara had an understanding and depth of experience on the subject which she was able to deliver in a simple, poignant manner that touched us all.
What became apparent very early on in the course was that each person’s grief is unique to them. Whilst we can empathise with people trying to cope with the death of a losing loved one, we cannot understand their pain simply because it is theirs. I found it extremely useful to understand how grief manifests itself and the models that almost predict how people ‘ping pong’ from feeling loss to resolving that loss. This means people may have many feelings from anger, pain, confusion, denial and all within the course of the same day.
What resonated with me was the explanation that the grief never lessens we simply start to grow our life outside our grief which allows us to step in and out of that grief less frequently. Other life experiences start to act as a counter balance to the grief.
The day course which was extremely intense ended with a simple list of 10 ways to help bereaved people:
1. Just being there and having time to be with them.
2. Listening and replying in a non judgemental way.
3. Listening, thereby understanding something of what they are going through.
4. Encourage them to talk about their loved one if they wish to and are ready to.
5. Allow silences.
6. Being aware of your own feelings about loss and grief.
7. Offering reassurance.
8. Not taking anger personally.
9. Recognising that your feelings may influence how they feel and taking care not to let this happen.
10. Accepting that you cannot take the pain away, but you can help people to feel supported.
Having attended the course I cannot understand why this is not part of every solicitors’ training. Clients generally only see a solicitor at times of crisis, a death, a divorce, injury, crime etc. and whilst we are taught the law, we are not taught effectively to listen and empathise with our clients.
I cannot compliment Cruse Bereavement Care and Barbara enough for enlightening me. The charity does fantastic work with children, the military and grieving people from all walks of life. I will be sending more of our staff on these courses this year as I feel it invaluable for a solicitor to have a better understanding of the grieving process.
Steven Evans – Partner.