As increasing numbers of people have turned to the Sue Ryder Online Bereavement Community to help with their grief, Johanna shares her experience of volunteering online to help to provide crucial support through the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as reflecting on some highlights and biggest learnings from her first year in the role.
Inspired to help by my own experience with grief
I was born in the Netherlands, where I grew up and trained to be a nurse and a nurse tutor. I moved to the UK in 1992, where I met my husband. I now work part-time as a church administrator and bookkeeper.
My decision to start volunteering with Sue Ryder was prompted by my own experience with grief. My dad died at home in 2017 and my mum in 2018, after spending her last few days in a fantastic hospice. I helped look after them at the end of their lives and losing both parents was very hard. Although I had encountered death many times before, both in my work as a nurse and in my personal life (grandparents, uncles, aunts and family friends), I had never experienced the pain of grief like this.
I looked for support and one of the things I found most helpful was being able to talk with others who knew what it felt like to lose a loved one. In 2019, I found and joined the Sue Ryder Online Bereavement Community. When an appeal was made a year ago for volunteers to help on the site, it seemed a good opportunity for me to become more involved.
The role of an Online Bereavement Community volunteer
There are now three of us who are Online Community volunteers: Susie, Jude and myself. I think it is fair to say we have become online friends and support each other from time to time. To get started, we each received training online and then chose a day or days that suit us to spend time on the site.
My volunteering takes up a few hours each week; both reading and replying to messages. Our main role is to look out for posts from new users and make sure that they get a reply, either from other users or, if no one replies to the post, from us.
We also have a list of resources and links to other organisations that we can mention when relevant. If we think someone could benefit from counselling, we can either mention this or highlight the post for a member of staff to respond to.
“I had never realised that so many grieving people have no one to turn to”
The number of new posts on the forum has grown a lot since I started a year ago, and many are from people who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19. Some posts can be hard to read, such as those from parents who have lost a child or from people who have had very traumatic experiences.
I try to remember that being a volunteer does not mean I need to have all the answers. For me, it just means being there for someone because I can relate to what they are going through, especially when they have lost a parent or are facing end of life care.
I don’t know why, but before starting my volunteering role I had never really realised that so many grieving people have no one to turn to. For many of the bereaved people we speak to, the Online Community is the only place where they can share how they feel and seek support.
It made me realise even more clearly how important this service is for the people who use it, and I feel glad that I am able to contribute in some way. All in all, I am finding my volunteer role very rewarding.
Become an Online Bereavement Community volunteer
Inspired by Johanna's story and interested in helping support others as an Online Community volunteer? Please get in touch with our team to find out more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Johanna joined Sue Ryder as an Online Bereavement Community volunteer in 2020, after finding support for her own grief on the forum. Now, she supports others online after they have experienced a bereavement, as part of our Online Community volunteer team.