A Lifetime’s Dedication

Reading graduate and Cruse Bereavement Care volunteer, Peter Norman, shares with CONNECTED his admiration for how the charity has supported people during the pandemic – at a time when their services are needed now more than ever.

Graduating from Reading in 1968 with both a degree in psychology and teacher training, Peter went on to become an educational psychologist. He spent his career within the education departments of local authorities, specialising in working with young children who had experienced severe trauma. However, his dedication to helping people didn’t stop there. In 1975, Peter was asked to join the steering committee of a local branch of Cruse Bereavement Care – the leading national charity for bereaved people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and 45 years later he remains dedicated to this worthwhile cause.

Peter tells CONNECTED: “Cruse is a voluntary agency with the vision that all bereaved people should have somewhere to turn when someone dies.

“Unfortunately, the journey of grieving is one we will all go through at some stage of our lives and Cruse’s mission is to offer support, advice and information to help people through this journey.

“My role in the charity is to supervise bereavement volunteers and counsellors, train volunteers, run groups and support clients after more complicated bereavements.

“Volunteering with Cruse has enhanced my life. Not only is it rewarding to know you are helping people, but it also helped me tremendously in my career as a psychologist.

“If I hadn’t come to Reading, I probably wouldn’t have discovered my passion for psychology and therefore wouldn’t have gone into this line of work.”

Increased need

Unfortunately, 2020 saw an increased need for bereavement support, but – as Peter explains – this wasn’t simply a result of COVID-19 deaths.

He said: “As well as seeing an increase in the number of people coming to us for support, we’ve also seen a change in the types of bereavements people are experiencing.

“As well as the direct impact of COVID-19, it’s important to remember that people are also still dying from other causes and the pandemic is complicating such deaths by the inability for relatives and friends to be present.

“All of these issues make the grieving process even harder than it already is.

“Our role now feels very different, but is no less critical for those who need support. I am filled with admiration when I listen to colleagues recount the range of strategies and time they offer our bereaved clients.”

Adapting during the pandemic

The pandemic has created challenges for every sector – including charities – and it was critical that Cruse remained operational despite the impact of COVID-19 on our lives. Peter explains how they have adapted to continue to provide support.

He said: “Cruse volunteers used to meet our clients face-to-face either at home or in surgeries, but since the first UK lockdown began in March 2020, we have transitioned to telephone support and training volunteers via video call.

“Speaking to clients on the phone has undoubtedly made our work harder. We’re unable to pick up cues from body posture or facial expression and we can’t provide non-verbal reassurance, so we’ve had to learn new techniques.

“But clients have told us that they still find this support valuable which is the most important thing. I’m proud that we’ve taken on board new ways of doing things to keep us operational.”

Helping people through a crisis

Peter is passionate about his work with Cruse, and is keen to raise awareness of the support they offer so that more people can be helped through the grieving process.

He said: “I’m pleased I’ve been able to do my bit through Cruse to help people during the pandemic. People who volunteer at Cruse all have a similar outlook on life to me, and I thoroughly enjoy working with such a dedicated team of people.

“It is challenging working with clients who are in the midst of one of the worst moments in their lives – but it is also rewarding because you are doing something positive, helping people through a bereavement.

“It’s important to keep spreading awareness of the charity so that we can provide support to more people during these difficult times.”

Find out more about Cruse Bereavement Care.