'Losing my brother and dad was incredibly tough - men need to not be afraid to seek help'
A Penwortham dad who received bereavement counselling from St Catherine’s Hospice following the deaths of his dad and brother has spoken out about his experiences in a bid to tackle the stigma surrounding men accessing mental health support.
Wayne Fletcher lost his beloved brother Paul Fletcher, who took his own life in September 2019, and then also lost his dad John to prostate cancer in May last year, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
John was being cared for by the hospice’s clinical nurse specialists at home, and the charity offered pre-bereavement and grief counselling to the family.
“It was an incredibly tough time for all of us,” Wayne said. “My mum was getting support from St Catherine’s after Dad died but I didn’t think I needed it. I just wanted to carry on and make him proud. I run the family landscape gardening business and was just trying to keep busy, but deep down I was suffering, I was really struggling. Eventually it caught up with me and I knew I needed some help.
“The St Catherine’s Support Team had asked my mum if anyone else in the family wanted to access the counselling service, so I decided to try it. I was paired up with one of their volunteer student counsellors, and honestly it feels like a cloud has been lifted.
“Every session felt so positive and productive, and I’d come out feeling really refreshed.
“It just helped to talk to someone different who didn’t know my dad and brother, who wouldn’t get upset and wasn’t judgmental. I could be fully open about everything; he let me talk and there was no bias there. I said things out loud which I thought I would just keep to myself, and it was a relief to get it off my chest.
“I was fortunate to be able to attend the sessions face-to-face rather than over the phone or video calls, which made a big difference. We had to wear PPE but it was fine. It didn’t put me off that he was a trainee volunteer counsellor either; he was there wholeheartedly because he wanted to make a difference. I would really encourage anyone who has an opportunity to access this kind of support to be open minded about it and see if it can help.”
St Catherine’s provides one-to-one bereavement support to patients’ loved ones before and after death. The charity also hosts a monthly bereavement support group which is open to everyone, not only those who have a connection to the Lostock Hall hospice.
“It upset the whole community when Paul died, and I know that a lot of his friends are accessing counselling from various places,” Wayne said. “There is still some reluctance from people to get help I think, especially men, and I wasn’t convinced about it myself at first but I’m so glad I gave it a chance. I’m a great believer in it now.
“My friend Heidi is a mental health nurse and she encouraged me to take St Catherine’s up on their offer. It worries me that some people are put off talking about their feelings; they are hard conversations to have but they help you to process and deal with things.”
Dad-of-three Wayne, 50, added: “I’m full of admiration for St Catherine’s for all the different ways they help people. The care provided by the nurses for my dad at home was unbelievable too. They are so gracious, and we’re grateful that he was able to be at home and we could all be with him in his final days and hours. They helped prepare us for what was coming, and I feel lucky that as a family we were able to benefit from their care and support when we needed it.
“I don’t feel like I need counselling anymore; it helped me as much as it could and I have the strength now to be there for my own family, my amazing wife Nicola and our children.”
Cheryl Scott, support team manager at St Catherine’s Hospice, said: “There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and we’re here to help people whenever they need us, every step of the way.
“We provide personalised social, emotional, practical, physiological and spiritual support to patients, their loved ones, and the whole community in a variety of ways. We rely on an incredible team of compassionate and committed volunteers who give their time and enable us to reach more people who need us. “We have a number of qualified volunteer counsellors in our team and we would love to welcome more qualified counsellors who are able to give a couple of hours a week to provide face-to-face, telephone or video counselling.
“We also work with education providers like Preston’s College, Runshaw College, and the University of Central Lancashire to enhance the professional development of student counsellors. We support the students and ensure that every one of our volunteer counsellors has the compassion and skills required for this very worthwhile role, and we’re pleased that our efforts are really making a difference.
“Our monthly bereavement group provides peer support to anyone in our community. It has an informal structure in that there are themes to some sessions or occasionally speakers attend, but most often the group simply meets for a coffee and a chat. The meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month from 1.30pm until 2.30pm.
• For more information, email [email protected] or call 01772 629171.
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