Read About Kerry’s Volunteering Experience
Thanks for agreeing to do this for us.
No problem at all…
I guess a good place to start would be for you to tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure, my name’s Kerry. I’m a 51year old Mum of three, married to Graeme and live in the beautiful village of Harlington. I’ve worked in education for 15 years, currently in Learning Support at Harlington Upper School, supporting students with learning difficulties and physical needs. My special area of interest is autism.
My hobbies are photography, baking and walking our little dog called Marley. I love holidays (especially skiing and camping) and spend lots of time researching where I’d like to travel to next!
So, how were you first introduced to CHUMS?
In August 2010 my eldest son died. His name was Luke and he was 17. Rose and Adam were 8 and 15 at the time. We were catapulted into a living nightmare and the months that followed were a blur of shock and disbelief. My daughter was having trouble sleeping and had become highly anxious. A neighbour gave me the phone number of CHUMS and urged me to call. Several days later we had a home visit from the lovely Russell Bradley. He was so calm and reassuring; something about him gave me a feeling of hope.
Can you remember much about coming to CHUMS for the first time? What was it like on that first day?
I can remember very clearly! I walked in to the Bereavement Workshop on Day 1, feeling very anxious and having no idea what to expect but within half an hour I was at ease. It’s hard to explain how or why, but the staff and volunteers were so gentle and kind, I just knew we were in safe hands.
What impact did the support you receive have on you and your family?
The impact was immeasurable. We attended the bereavement workshops, and my daughter Rose also received some 1:1 support to address the nightmares and anxiety she was experiencing. We attended the Dragonfly Day as a family, Rose went to Dell farm, we went to the Christmas remembrance service and for some time I attended the ongoing parents’ group. Rose continued to use the strategies she had learnt at CHUMS and the whole experience helped us to process our grief in a realistic and positive way. I met people who I connected with and still remain in contact with to this day.
So how did it lead to you becoming a volunteer?
I was so grateful to CHUMS for the support we had received and had toyed with the idea of getting involved somehow as a volunteer. One day I was looking through Luke’s Facebook and I came across a post he had written several months before he died. It was a quote from Albert Einstein, “Only a life lived for others is worth living”. It was a real ‘light bulb’ moment for me. It felt like a message from Luke and I decided there and then to become a volunteer. My husband paid for the bereavement training as an early Christmas present and I embarked on the course in September 2012.
Was it strange to be volunteering for somewhere where you had been personally?
I did worry that it might feel strange to be on the ‘other side of the fence’ but the CHUMS family is so welcoming and loving that you immediately feel part of the team.
Actually, a lot of our volunteers and staff have been through CHUMS as service users in the past. How do you think your personal experience has impacted your role as a support to others?
Because of my own situation, it’s natural that I empathise with parents who have experienced the loss of a child, or families affected by suicide, but I do feel a connection, whatever the circumstances of the loss. I truly believe in the bereavement workshops, as I am living proof that they work! And it’s very powerful to be able to say to someone in the early stages of grief “I survived and you can too”.
I guess people volunteer at places for a variety of reasons. Why do you do it? And what difference do you want to make?
Someone said to me recently that they wonder if I volunteer because I seek redemption.. I wasn’t able to save my own son, so helping others relieves my guilt. Maybe that is partly true, but I volunteer because it feels meaningful to me. People gave up their time for us when we needed support, so now it’s our turn to help others. It ‘keeps the circle turning’.
I feel privileged to be involved, and it’s inspiring to work with people who have such commitment and compassion. When the families say ‘thank you’ at the end of the workshops I get an overwhelming feeling that I have done something worthwhile.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about taking up some volunteer work?
I would share this quote…
“By lighting a torch for others, you also brighten your own path”
Brilliant. Thanks for giving up some of your time to have a chat. Is there anything else you think is important to say?
Just ‘Thank You’ 🙂