This week (Monday 11 May to Sunday 17 May 2020) is Dying Matters Week, a national awareness campaign inviting us all to talk more openly about death, dying and bereavement.

In recent years, Heart of Kent Hospice has hosted a range of events and drop-ins to meet members of its community and help them to break the taboo of talking about dying.

The coronavirus outbreak has meant that people are having to think more about death than ever before and sadly, an increase in the number of people dying, has had the inevitable effect of more families and friends finding themselves grieving for the ones they have lost.

What is more, the coronavirus outbreak is making it hard to grieve, as visitor numbers for dying patients are limited to one, and families living in different households are having to practice social distancing at a time when they want to be a physical comfort to one another.

Even funerals are very different to how they were just a few short months ago. For some the physical separation from the very people who would normally be cocooning them with love and hugs can make the whole event feel sterile and lonely.

In response to the increase in families and friends struggling with their grief, Heart of Kent Hospice Family Support Team has adapted the way it offers services to try to support those families remotely and encourage them to talk about how they feel.

In phase one, the Hospice Family Support Team are now working on the phone, and are asking those friends and family members of Hospice patients who have died recently to phone in if they need bereavement support. Telephone assessments and grief support is still available to those who need it. In addition, its fortnightly Stepping Stones group has been moved onto WhatsApp, so that existing members of the group - relatives, friends, loved ones and carers can continue to talk and support each other as they did at the Hospice before it had to suspend its face-to-face support. Alongside this our team of bereavement volunteers are also making regular supportive phone calls to group members.

In phase two, the charity hopes to increase its team of counsellors further so they can support people who are bereaved through Covid-19 and offer the same support to the wider community regardless of whether their loved one was a patient at the Hospice. Offering families an opportunity to talk about their loss is one important way to help them come to terms with their grief. In phase two it is hoped that other Kent hospices will join Heart of Kent Hospice in offering this countrywide.

Finally, alongside the telephone bereavement support, the Hospice has also created a factsheet for families who have lost a loved one during this time of national crisis. As well as providing a step-by-step guide to what happens after a bereavement at this time, it also explains the other support available to families and friends and signposts them to other useful information on funerals and bereavement support.

You can download the factsheet here or to talk to a member of the Family Support Team, please call 01622 792200 ext 260.

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