Shortlist of recommended reading

(This is a list I’m putting together primarily for those taking part in a training event I’m leading in Devon in November.)

For those interested in understanding more about how grief affects the bereaved, here is a very limited list of suggested links and further reading.

There are virtually endless resources, so I’ve just picked out a few that I think might be most useful if you’re just looking for a quick introduction to the topic. (Most of these are external links.)

Understanding grief

Helping someone who is grieving

Supporting “Continuing Bonds”

Understanding the grieving Christian

Useful list of support organisations for those who are grieving

A page of information with links to further resources


Main website:  (explains our project, has links to events, etc)

Blog: (Abi’s blog – usually updated weekly)

Subject index for A Valey Journal bloglots to read on different sides of grief

Twitter: Living with Loss @with_loss

“A Valley Journal – Surviving Bereavement” book – by Abi May, Onwards & Upwards Publishers 2014. Available on Amazon (paperback, hardcover and ebook), and can be ordered from Waterstones and some independent retailers, or from Abi directly.




Grief companions, not grief police

Avoiding comments that are based on “should” or “shouldn’t” seems to be one of the keys for supporting those who are grieving.

That’s what makes the difference between being grief companions – who walk alongside those who mourn – and grief police – who are perhaps too generous with their advice and admonitions.

Giving encouragement to each person to grieve in the way that is best for them (within reason and avoiding harmful behaviours) is what we should be aiming for, in my opinion.

I illustrate it like this:


Generally speaking, if we find ourselves using these phrases or something similar, we’re probably not being as much help as we might imagine.


Support groups and finding relief from the isolation of grief

Loneliness is one of the challenges of bereavement that many people face, particularly if the person they are grieving was their partner or had a significant role in their life.

There are various peer-led support groups that can provide relief from the sense of isolation. Here are a few ideas of places you can suggest to those you are supporting.

For bereaved parents, The Compassionate Friends offers great support with local groups and weekend gatherings.

For those who have been bereaved by suicide, SOBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide) also organises peer-led groups.

For those who have lost a partner, then there’s Widowed and Young (WAY) and WAYUP (50s and over) 

Many churches and religious organisations host bereavement social groups.

For many people attending the retreats I lead, the opportunity to talk with other people who are struggling with their grief is one of the highlights.

This is not an exhaustive list! I am sure there are many other possibilities once you start looking around. Here is something I recently came across:

Following below is a project organised by CRUSE Bereavement Care and supported by the British Red Cross and Co-op.

More than Words: Bereavement Social Groups


Have you been bereaved? Would you like to meet and help others in a similar situation for friendship and mutual support?


Following a bereavement, many people can feel lonely or isolated. Even with a network of friends, colleagues and relatives, individuals can still feel they have no one to turn to. We’re here to help.

Working with the British Red Cross, Cruse Bereavement Care has established More than Words. We’re providing new opportunities for hundreds of bereaved individuals to meet with others in supportive environments and feel better connected in their local areas.

More Than Words is part of the British Red Cross’ Connecting Communities programme, supported by its partnership with the Co-op to highlight and tackle loneliness and social isolation in the UK.

How we can help

Feelings of loneliness and isolation do not always follow bereavement(s) – there is no right or wrong way to feel. However, for many, the death of another, especially if the person was very close, can create or augment feelings of being alone.

If you ever feel alone following a bereavement, More than Words can help you connect to other people nearby and enjoy the benefits of feeling more involved in your local area.

Our wide-range of peer-led (member-led) activities are designed to promote inclusion and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. We do this by:

  • Supporting you to understand that you’re not alone in feeling alone. Bereavement can often increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. We’ll help you meet other people with similar experiences who might be feeling the same way.
  • Providing opportunities for you to take part in a variety of local activities matched to your interests. These could include (but are not limited to) coffee & cake meet-ups, walking groups and reading clubs.
  • Encouraging self-help and peer support – a service that you can turn to instead of, or as well as, other support services.

How you can get involved

More Than Words is available in twelve locations across all four nations of the UK: Bedfordshire, Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Whether you live in one of these areas or nearby, you can get involved by:

  • Becoming a More than Words Champion – are you passionate about helping others and want to engage in a range of fun social activities? With our support, help co-run a support group in your area
  • Joining a group – meet up and take part in activities with other people with similar interests and experiences
  • Volunteering in other ways such as providing admin support to a local Cruse branch or participating in fundraising activities

For more information, please send us an email: More than Words ( Alternatively, feel free to call, or leave us an answerphone message on: 02089399534
If there is not a More Than Words service near you, other support could be available. Visit the British Red Cross website to find out about other Connecting Communities programmes, or call the freephone Cruse Bereavement Care helpline on 0808 808 1677.

Devon 1602

Finding safe spaces where the bereaved are comfortable to talk about their loved ones and their experiences of grief is important for tackling the loneliness they might be feeling.


Stages of grief – what do you think?

How do most people experience grief? Is it in neat packages or distinct stages?

This illustration shows two models of grief.

On the left, there’s the linear model – nice and tidy.

On the right, someone used this lovely tidy diagram and added in their own experience. It’s a big muddle and a big mess.



Here’s a quote from  Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who originally wrote about “5 stages of grief”. It’s a quote from a later time in her work:

The [5 stages] were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

I’m not the first to conclude that there are no distinct stages of grief. They are merely useful labels to describe what the griever may or may not experience.


(P.S. Sorry I do not know the creator of that illustration in order to credit them.)



What is a grief companion?

Watching this video struck me as a good illustration of what being a grief companion is about.

Think about the struggle, with your legs quivering under you, just wondering if you’re going to make it through the most difficult time of your life. And then someone comes along…

WATCH HERE (external link from spring 2017 – I hope it still works)

This is the moment a London Marathon runner shows amazing sportsmanship and helps a fellow competitor over the finish line at the end of Sunday’s race. Swansea Harrier Matthew Rees sees David Wyeth of Chorlton Runners struggling to put one foot in front of the other with just 200m of the course remaining. Showing incredible selflessness, Rees slows down and supports Wyeth over the final metres to the finish. [The Guardian]

David still had to make his own journey to the finish line, but having Matthew and another volunteer at his side is what helped make that possible. Would he have done it alone?

We each have our own journey on the marathon of grief, but having a friend or even a complete stranger stand beside us, even for just a few minutes, can make such a big difference.

And that’s what grief companioning is all about.

Supporting suicide survivors

“Suicide survivors” generally refers to those whose loved one, family member or close friend has died by suicide.

Suicide is widely acknowledged as one of the most difficult bereavements to cope with. It can have a life-changing impact.

How do you support someone who has lost a friend or a loved one to suicide? What should you say? What shouldn’t you say? How should you react?

Here is a link to a free guide to download that gives some excellent suggestions.

I found this on the Support after Suicide Partnership website which is worthwhile exploring.