Mark, one of our amazing volunteer befrienders, gives us a powerful insight into what it’s like to help at a Bereaved Parent Support event.

I am sitting in a room with a number of other people. I am here as part of the Care for the Family team.

On this occasion, you will find me comfortably sat at a table that, to a casual observer, looks like an entirely ordinary small group of people sat in quiet conversation.

Extraordinary people

However, while this may be an ordinary room, the people contained within are absolutely extraordinary. Each person here has lost a son or daughter. Sometimes, tragically, both. Some recently, some of us years ago. Everyone here is dealing with their own crippling loss and that includes me.

I am here as a befriender, a volunteer who hopes to be of some help to the parents around this table by offering up details of my own personal journey so far. Each parent quietly and sincerely shares their own unique story of unspeakable loss. Although the room may be anonymous, the people and their stories are anything but.

As befrienders we come to the table from a place of vulnerability; our weakness is our greatest strength. Events such as this never get easier, no matter how many times I sit and share my own story, for it is as real today as it has always been. Each mother or father shares their personal devastating journey, loss etched upon their face, deep-set lines wordlessly describing the anguish of separation and grief. Invariably my eyes begin to moisten, betraying my internal turmoil at the words being spoken and their parallels to my own experience.I need to raise my eyes from the table to prevent a tear running down my cheek and take in the room around me. There is often an inevitable tension in the room, the uncertainty of whether this indescribable pain will ever ease. But as the event moves forward, this very ordinary place is made very special by the people within. They create a mutual place of safety through sharing their deep, deep grief; where few words can express the depth and enormity of our pain.

A safe environment

There is no judgement of our inability to articulate the scale and depth of our loss, just an understanding that there is a need to release emotion. It is a place of human need: the desperate need to grieve a loss so deep and fundamental, straining against a deep need to breathe air deep into our lungs and maybe live a little again despite all that is lost to us.

Smiles and tears often mingle as we are gifted the opportunity to openly talk about our children.

In life we learn to laugh before we can talk. In this safe environment, we share the memories of our own children who we cared for and with whom we shared our own most intimate smiles. And we may, as we learn to talk a new language of the personal pain we feel so intensely, rest upon the vocabulary of laughter with people we trust. We know they understand something of what we’re going through and do not judge our need to release emotion that sometimes emerges as a quiet groan, or maybe as a laugh.

In the room around me I recognise the faces of people who have become my friends on my own journey of loss – the other befrienders who volunteer to gather and come alongside grieving parents. These people willingly open up their hearts in the hope to be of some comfort to those whose pain is raw and overwhelming. As I look about me I realise that it is an honour – a painful and complicated honour – to share this room with everyone here.

A vital invisible network that makes this possible

But I know that beyond this room there is a legion of friends, family and supporters who help with the practicalities of our home life and support us to be in this room today. This includes the thousands of Care for the Family Partners who I will never meet nor be able to acknowledge personally, but whose financial support makes these conversations possible. These people go unseen and unheralded but they enable this day to happen. This invisible network stretching way beyond the doors of this room is vital to hundreds of grieving families and their friends across the country. They help us share the burden of another’s pain. It is these people that encourage and support me to keep doing what I do. As a team of volunteers we open up our hearts, knowing that so many unseen acts of kindness beyond this room allow parents in the darkest place to find some comfort and hope here in this room and on their ongoing journey.

These thoughts pass through my mind in the time it takes for me to surreptitiously wipe that growing tear from the corner of my eye. I return to look at my fellow travellers at the table while the room around continues to murmur sharing tears, laughter and fellowship. It is a very special place and one that is an honour to be invited in to, but a place in which we all wished we did not qualify to enter.


You can find out more details about our upcoming support events for bereaved parents here.

As well as running events, our Bereaved Parent Support team also provide a telephone befriending service where we link mums with mums and dads with dads. If you would like to be supported by one of our befrienders in this way, please visit our website for more information or call Care for the Family on 029 2081 0800.

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At Care for the Family we support couples, parents and those who have been bereaved. If you would be able to make a one off donation to support our work, we would be very grateful. Thank you.

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