Members support each other through bereavement

Co-op Member, Debbie Williams, and her mum.

We’ve been trialling online bereavement story groups, run by members for our members. Co-op member, Debbie Williams, tells us how she is helping to support these pilot groups, what it’s like to be involved in a session and what it means to be a Member Leader for her community.

My mum passed away earlier this year and I’d been struggling to deal with my huge loss.

When I learnt that Co-op was looking to test an online bereavement story group with its members, it felt like the perfect opportunity for me to connect with others who were going through a similar journey.

Before experiencing a close bereavement, I hadn’t realised just how many people were hiding their sadness while carrying on with their daily lives. Being able to chat in a small group gave me the chance to really talk about how I was feeling.

The session

It was easy to join the group online via Zoom and it was nice that I could do that from the comfort of my own home.

The 60-minute session was well organised and, with just six members in the group, it felt relaxed and private enough to share experiences that I wouldn’t normally talk about.

It wasn’t a counselling session, so I didn’t feel vulnerable. The focus is on telling a story - about an experience, the person or how you're feeling. I loved that there was no pressure to say anything and that it was more than fine to just listen. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed it and I found myself smiling and laughing lots.

I liked the fact that I could talk about my mum for five minutes - telling people who she was, what happened and how I was feeling. To have that protected time to remember and reflect was really good.

I got quite upset telling my story, so I appreciated that I could just turn off my computer camera while talking and put it back on again once I had recomposed myself. And when it all got a bit too emotional there was also the opportunity to add comments to the group chat.

It was nice to hear other members open up and share their experiences. It gave me a real sense of belonging. Everybody had something different to say and focus on, depending on where they were in their grief journey. I could relate to much of what was being said.

Taking the lead

It was an interesting approach for Co-op to ask a member who has experienced a recent bereavement and knows what it’s like to lead the session, and it was a real privilege to do it.

I was a little nervous at first because talking about my own personal experiences and feelings - even in a small group - took me out of my comfort zone especially as I wanted to ensure everyone involved had a good experience, but it felt good to bring other members into the conversation and make them feel welcome.

Actually, I was surprised at how simple it was - the leader really just starts by telling their story, sets the tone for the rest and gives others an idea of what to do.

There was another member who also played an instrumental part in keeping the session flowing, and I could definitely see them leading a group in the future.

Next steps

I think online sessions like this have opened a new door for members to engage, especially in the current climate. These sorts of sessions can really bring vulnerable people together.

The idea of members supporting other members is one of Co-op’s key differences and, as a member of the Co-op’s National Members’ Council, it’s something that really resonates with me and two of our co-operative values of self-help and self-responsibility.

The session certainly felt beneficial. I didn’t realise just how much I would take from it. I would happily get involved again.

There are many ways you can get involved with your Co-op. Head to your member account to see what opportunities are currently available.

Debbie Williams, Co-op member from Southampton