“By helping others, I am also helping myself”: what it’s like to be an Online Community Mentor

Someone typing at a laptop

If someone you love is dying or has died, our online community is a place to share experiences, get things off your chest, ask questions and chat to people who understand. Online Community Mentors are ordinary users who volunteer to give Eleanor, our Community Manager, a hand in making sure that the site is a safe and supportive place for everyone.

Mentors respond to new users and posts without replies to help make sure everyone feels welcome and supported, answer new member’s questions about the community, and flag any technical problems, people breaking the rules or concerns about fellow members’ wellbeing to me so I can act as quickly as possible.

I asked two of our most active Community Mentors, who post under the usernames Mel and Lonely, what prompted them to join the community and how they find volunteering.

Mel: “Communicating freely with others who are not judgemental is a big help to me”

“I joined the online community two months after the loss of my mother nearly two years ago. I was feeling very alone at that time when the reality of Mum’s loss hit me as I had been living with and caring for her. Although people were kind to me, I found it very hard to talk about my feelings and, after searching online for bereavement forums, I found Sue Ryder.

“Finding out that I could communicate freely with others who were not judgemental and empathised with my situation was a big help to me. Knowing that there was someone out there in the community to answer my sometimes silly queries or just be there – even in the middle of the night – meant so much.

“When I was asked if I would like to be a Community Mentor, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I worried that I wouldn’t know the right things to say in my replies to people, but I realised quickly that all I had to do was continue replying to people as I had been doing and just offer support where I could.

“I knew I wanted to help as community members had been kind to me and I wanted to continue that for others. I do find some messages very hard to respond to and find I can get upset doing so, but knowing that there are other Mentors as well as me is good; if I am having a bad day, they are there to help me as well as other members of the community.”

Lonely: “As a widow of a number of years, I thought I’d be able to help the newly bereaved”

“I have been a member of the online community for 11 months. I found the site whilst looking for advice; I wanted to speak to others going through the same heartache as I was when my husband died two and half years earlier in 2014.

“I was asked to become a mentor by the Community Manager and I thought it was a great idea because I was one of the people who had been widowed for a number of years and thought I would be able to help the newly bereaved people on the site.

“When someone is newly bereaved, they have no idea what they have facing them; they think that grief is something to get over in a few weeks or months because everyone else expects them to and I wanted to let them know that this is not the case and they are entitled to grieve for as long as they want.

“I’d tell anyone who’s thinking of becoming a mentor to go for it. It is comforting to be able to talk to and help people who have had their hearts broken when someone they love has died because, at that point, they don't know where to turn, and I think it is much easier to pour your heart out to someone you cannot see than it is to sit down and have a face-to-face discussion with someone you do not know.

“Many times I have been in floods of tears typing down my innermost thoughts and then receiving so much encouragement from people going through the same thing as I am. By helping others I am also helping myself.

“The online community has helped me see that I am not alone on this terrible journey, and being able to talk about my feelings and about the person I have lost is a wonderful thing. To be honest, no one who has not been through such a loss wants me to be going on and on about the person who has died; it makes them feel uncomfortable so I say nothing and hide my feelings away.

“This site gives me the opportunity to talk about my husband, what he was like, what happened when he died, how I felt and what I am going through and feeling now – because we are all experiencing the same sadness. When we have doubts about what to do, there is always someone there willing to help and have a chat.

“We have all learned since being on this fantastic site that there is no shame in grieving for as long as you need to, and that grief comes in waves; even when you have had a few good days and think you are coping, the next wave comes and knocks you back down again. We keep getting up and keep being knocked down but that is what grieving is: taking it one day at a time. I know I will grieve forever for my husband and I am not ashamed to admit it; he was my life.”

Reach out if you need support

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Eleanor Baggley

Digital Services Manager

Eleanor Baggley