She had 12 one-hour weekly online sessions with a bereavement counsellor this year after Chris passed away last December from bowel cancer in Sussex.
Frankie, who works in HR for a food wholesaler, says the regular meetings gave her the vital support she needed after she had put her feelings on hold while dealing with her father’s illness.
Chris had been diagnosed with cancer a year earlier and Frankie, who had moved to Wycombe in 2014, spent much of the last period of his life driving back and forth to Sussex.
“Looking back now, I realise it was really traumatic. But at the time, I literally parked how I was feeling just to be able to get on with things and be able to support my dad. It was like I was on autopilot. I still can’t really remember what happened those last few months,” she said.
“I was still working when he was unwell and was driving down to Sussex regularly to see him, and support my mum – I probably spent two months back and forth, which was challenging and draining both emotionally and physically.”
However, after Chris died, Frankie realised she needed support.
“I wasn’t coping particularly well,” she said. “ I am a great believer in asking for help when I need it and I knew I had to speak to someone before things got out of control. I had the option of support services through my Employee Assistance Programme at work, but I wanted to reach out to get support from the people who took care of him at St Barnabas Hospice in Sussex, because there was a link to him there and the kindness he was shown through their care."
St Barnabas gave Frankie the option of dealing with a hospice closer to her home, which she accepted, and she was referred to South Bucks Hospice in High Wycombe. She was then given the option of face-to-face counselling but chose online sessions to fit around her busy work schedule.
Frankie was particularly impressed by the hospice’s flexible approach in dealing with her needs, and also with the number of sessions provided.
She said: “Normally counselling with the NHS is four to six sessions but South Bucks Hospice offered me 12. I found this so helpful in terms of processing my grief. After that sixth session, it was such a relief to know I had another six sessions. It was in the later stages of counselling when I really started to see changes in myself, realising I was starting to heal and noticing how much better I was coping.”
Frankie fondly recalls her very close relationship with Chris, a consulting structural engineer, who was 77 when he died.
“We were really close – we had a special bond. We would put the world to rights when ever we spoke on the phone or spent time together. We disagreed on a lot of things which always made our conversations fun, he will always be my favourite person to debate with! He was a passionate environmentalist and a very generous, kind-spirited man,” she said.
She recalls being ‘pragmatic and practical’ to support his needs when he was in the hospice and only decided to seek help for herself after he passed away.
“It was really helpful to talk and have someone incredibly supportive at South Bucks Hospice,” she said. “When I first talked to my counsellor, there were so many other things wrapped up in my grief – it’s hard to describe how helpful she was. It was a case of me unpacking grief, life, and the trauma of what had happened.
“The first few sessions were about getting an understanding of what I was feeling and dealing with the immediate sadness and loss – it was really after that fourth session, my counsellor began helping with my techniques and helping me to accept how I was feeling and not trying to change it, which was a huge turning point for me.”
Frankie adds that the local area is lucky to have the services of South Bucks Hospice during the most challenging times for people – and she urged others to seek support from the charity if they need it.
She said: “It can be scary to access support at times because you don’t want to feel you need help – but you should let them support you because they can make a big difference to how you might feel in the coming months after you lose your loved one.”
Frankie says she is still feeling the benefit of the counselling sessions many weeks after they have ended.
“Counselling has allowed me to accept that life is different now and that’s okay. I can cope with it.
“My counsellor gave me the support that will take me through years of my life - and I will never forget that.”