Kathy Freyer, 57, a trained Social Worker, is a volunteer on the hospice’s telephone Bereavement Listening Service which was set up just over a year ago.

The aim of the initiative is to support local bereaved people through regular conversations with trained volunteers for up to three months after a loss.

Kathy, from High Wycombe, a former team manager for children’s services at Buckinghamshire County Council, began her ten weeks of training for the role of a 'listening volunteer' in February 2022.

She was then put in touch later that year with a woman who had lost her husband to cancer, and the pair spoke weekly on the telephone for up to an hour at a time.

Kathy explained: “It was generally all aspects of what was going on in her life, the loss and being alone after having a long relationship with somebody, being in the home by herself, that sense of helplessness, what her life was going to be, how does she move forward, what she should do with his belongings.

“She was very clear in saying she did find it very helpful – it was having that consistent person once a week calling her to check in and see how she was, setting small tasks she could do the next week.”

Volunteers can support up to three bereaved people at any one time, and there are currently seven listeners at the hospice.

“It is an extremely important service,” said Kathy. “A lot of people have support from their families but, for instance, there are some in their 80s who don’t have a lot of close contact with people so having a listener contacting them once a week at least gives them consistency. They know there is somebody at the end of the phone to check in with them. It is a lifeline to some people.”

Kathy found out about the role in a local newsletter. She said: “I have always been drawn to doing things supporting people, and having quite a lot of bereavements myself in the years running up to doing this, I just felt a lot of people need good support and I thought this was something I could do and help with. So, I made contact and the rest is history.”

She points out there is enormous benefits to the listener as well as the bereaved person.

“A personal value of mine is about caring for others,” she said. “It is not just about me - there is a whole world out there, and if more people were to think about others, what a wonderful world it would be.

“It gives me a sense of comfort as well – if I know that I can make a difference to somebody’s week and that it just might brighten their day in some way.”

She urged others to look into becoming listeners if they felt they had the right qualities for the job.

“You have to have empathy and try to understand the thoughts and feelings of the other people. It’s not about giving advice but it’s about understanding their thoughts and feelings and giving them a space to talk without any judgement – an opportunity for them to open up and talk about their experiences without being criticised or judged.”

Kathy normally keeps the conversations to the telephone but did meet up once face-to-face with the first bereaved person she had listened to in her new role.

She recalled: “We had a coffee together at the hospice and she arrived with a great big bouquet and a card to thank me. It was really lovely – she was so thankful.

"I don’t do this because I am looking for the thanks. It gives me a sense that I am giving something to somebody at a challenging time in their life. I can be there to offer comfort and support, so somebody can see there are real and genuine people who will give their time for no payment, just because it a good thing to do.”

If you would like more information about the hospice’s Bereavement Listening Service, please contact listening@sbhospice.org.uk.