Wigan husband channels grief from wife's death into helping other people at hospice
A widower who became a bereavement counsellor after the death of his wife is now making a difference to others in their time of need.
Andy Gordon started volunteering at Wigan and Leigh Hospice after discovering how much counselling and support from others helped him after his wife Ann died.
She was in a care home at the end of her life, where she was supported by a hospice nurse and physiotherapist, and Andy was offered counselling at the hospice.
Andy worked in a variety of jobs, including as a bricklayer in England and Germany, a cook for Wigan Infirmary and with technology company Oracle.
He has now spoken about his experiences - and what led to him becoming a bereavement counsellor - to mark Volunteers Week.
He said: “I was working at Oracle when my wife Ann fell ill in 2013.
“I found it so hard to ask for help at first, but when I did we got so much support from my work colleagues, family, friends and Ann’s workplace. This inner circle of support helped us so much.
“If I needed to swap shifts or wanted to finish early to go and see Ann in hospital I could do it.
“I was invited over to people’s homes for tea and received letters of support and telephone calls from friends and family.
“I realised how lucky I was and I thought to myself ‘how would I have coped without this support?’
“At the same time I was going to counselling at the hospice which was an absolute revelation.
“At first, as a man, I felt I should be able to fix this myself but grief’s not like that and once the tears came so did the words.
“It helped me so much being in a room where I could speak in confidence to someone who truly understood the grieving process.
“From then on I knew that I wanted to offer the support I’d had to others, and counselling was the vehicle I could use to do it.”
Ann died in 2015, 30 years after the couple were married.
Once Andy felt ready, he went on to complete a three-year diploma in counselling.
“I was gripped,” he said. “You learn so much about yourself and the world in general.
“The hospice was so helpful to my family, so when I needed a placement for my counselling course there was only one place I ever wanted to go to.
“It just felt like I was coming home. It’s always been like a bit of heaven on earth to me.
“Grief is a shared experience but we all have our own unique painful stories and through my own personal experience I know how much courage it takes for anyone to attend your first counselling session.
“I have so much respect for my clients and feel privileged they are able to share their painful story with me.
“I began volunteering as a bereavement counsellor at the hospice in March 2018 and loved it.
“My preference is face-to-face counselling, but at the moment I do bereavement counselling over the telephone from home and my clients are saying it helps them a lot which makes it all worthwhile.”
He continued: “When someone dies our lives come to a standstill.
“We can feel like we are drowning in waves of grief. Certain songs may be too hard to listen to or a photograph too painful to look at.
“There is a saying ‘Death ends a life but not a relationship’. We all have our own special memories of the loved one and although we can no longer feel their physical presence we still carry their memories in our hearts and minds.
“This is their legacy to us for as long as we wish to keep it. Then over time, once the storms of grief have subsided, we will be able to look at a special photograph or recall a special memory and feel privileged to say ‘that is what I was given’ rather than ‘that is what I have lost’.”
The coronavirus pandemic has affected how Andy supports people, but it has reminded him of some important things.
He said: “Covid has helped me to focus on the things than we can control, rather than those out in the world that we can’t.
“It has also reminded me of the power of being supported by getting a phone call, receiving a kind letter or a hug.
“Receiving a text saying ‘I’m here if you need anything’ can be the eighth wonder of the world when you are going through a personal crisis.”
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