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A big pair of wings wrapped around you

We’ve often written about the friendship and support people have received by being part of our Bereavement Group but here Doreen, who has been part of the Group since 2021, talks about how it has helped her over those years. We are very grateful to Doreen for talking to us:


Doreen and her husband Kevin moved to Crowborough from Essex in 2018 to be nearer to family. They didn’t know anyone in the town but had each other, having met and been firm friends since they were 11 years old.


Doreen had already survived cancer in her 40s, so the couple appreciated the importance of living life as well as possible and, since Kevin had retired from the fire service at 50, they had fulfilled dreams of travelling round Europe in a motorhome and going on a cruise.


However, a conversation with Kevin’s brother changed everything, as he urged him to take a PSA test for prostate cancer. Thinking this seemed sensible, Kevin went ahead; he felt fit and well and didn’t give it much thought. However, a phone call asking the couple to quickly attend a doctor’s appointment set alarm bells ringing.


They were given news that Kevin had a rare cancer called Pancreatic Neuroendocrine which was treatable but not curable. Then came the pandemic, which saw Kevin and Doreen alone in Crowborough, not able to make new friends in a town they didn’t know and unable to see family.


Kevin spent his last five weeks in the Cottage Hospice in Five Ashes (part of Hospice in the Weald), which Doreen praises for their exceptional care. While in his hospice bed, Kevin called Tester & Jones to talk about his funeral wishes and begin to make arrangements and, after he passed, Doreen came in to see us.


“I was introduced to Sharon, who was immediately aware of how traumatised I was and made the experience so much easier,” Doreen says. “She was so attentive, and mindful, guiding me with what felt like a gentle hand on my back; she really listened to me and also took onboard what I didn’t say. Sharon particularly understood that I really didn’t know anyone in Crowborough and felt very much alone.”


Sharon told Doreen she would receive an invitation to our Bereavement Group.


Asked how she felt when the invitation arrived, Doreen says: “To be honest, I felt horrified and uncomfortable. I was still very much in shock and was numb, while life still seemed to be going on all around me. I looked at the invitation and thought, I don’t want to be in a room with other sad people and make myself even more depressed.”


But, Doreen said she ‘swallowed hard’ and thought that Kevin would have encouraged her to go, telling her if she didn’t like it, she wouldn’t have to go again.


“I’m not sure how I even walked through the door and I remember feeling scared and overwhelmed,” says Doreen. “Glenys invited me to sit with two ladies, who touched my arm and without even opening their mouths to say anything, spoke a thousand words. I can’t explain it but for the first time since I’d lost Kevin, I felt among people who got it. Up until then, I just felt everyone I saw just looked at me with pity but in the Bereavement Group, I experienced a true connection and a safe space. When I left that first meeting, I felt lighter.”


What makes our Bereavement Group special is not only what happens during the meetings; it’s also the support and connection which continues outside. A few months after joining, Doreen ended up forming a coffee meet-up group, more or less by accident! She explains:


“There was some confusion with the emails about one meeting and a few of us turned up at St John’s Church Hall to discover there wasn’t a meeting at all. We’d brought items for a ‘bring and share’ lunch, so I said why not come back to my house? It was so lovely and we all really bonded that day. I suggested we meet once a month at The Cross for coffee and that’s what we do now, in addition to the monthly Bereavement Group meeting. All the walls come down and, over coffee, I’ve found that we have started to really talk about our losses.”


The coffee group has a minimum of 12 people attending each time.


Doreen continues: “Everyone is made to feel included and, out of that, some really good and true friendships have been formed. Often, we’ll be chatting about a new film that’s come out and a few of us will spontaneously arrange a cinema trip. We – the women and the men - all feel connected and it feels safe. We’re all on the same journey after all and there’s an unspoken bond. I can really talk about Kevin inside the Bereavement Group.”


“Grief is a like a big coat. You put it on and, as much as you pull it around, it doesn’t ever really fit properly but you’re stuck with it. Being alone for me, after so many years with my husband, is hard. It’s the same world, but different, because he isn’t part of it anymore.”


“The Bereavement Group means having somebody by your side to hold your hand and enable you to take a few tentative steps once again. You will fall along the way but there is somebody to catch you. I don’t feel alone now, as I know there are people here in this town who truly care about me.”


“Accepting that first invitation to the Bereavement Group was the best thing I ever did and I always look forward to our meetings. It has been my saviour and I don’t know where I’d be without it. There are tears – and that’s fine – but there are laughs as well. We all owe so much to Glenys for creating the Tester & Jones Bereavement Group. Honestly, it’s just like having a big pair of wings wrapped around you.”



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