NEWPORT mother-of-two Bal Gill was struggling to carve out much-needed time to grieve for her father when a friend recommended the STEPS bereavement support group set up by Tovey Bros.
Bal lost her beloved father, Partab Singh Sidhu, 80, to sepsis following a five-week hospital stay in July 2018. Reeling from shock, Bal subsequently found much of her energy was spent prioritising the emotional well-being of her young children and widowed mother whilst her own grief was put on hold.
Initially reticent about discussing her loss with a group of strangers, Bal now credits STEPS co-ordinator Natalie Howard with providing her with the tools to move forward with her life whilst still honouring the memory of her late father.
Bal said: “There was that sense of nervousness before I first went to STEPS around expectations. I remember Natalie standing at the front of the room and I can’t recall exactly what she said but I cried. It was the first opportunity I’d had to get off the treadmill of life and actually grieve my loss.
“I strongly related to what Natalie shared about how when her own father passed away she took on her mum’s grief and didn’t take the time to grieve as a daughter. I felt the same – so focused on practicalities and making sure Mum was ok that I hadn’t allowed myself the time and emotional space to grieve. I was trying to be invincible for others but forgot about myself as a person.
“I used to look forward to Tuesday evening meetings because it was my time, my space, to share my grief in a comfortable, safe environment. Natalie was fantastic because she made you feel at ease – she would stand by the door before each session and say hello to everyone individually. She also remembered what you said from week to week, which, for me, meant she cared and was listening. She never interjected or stopped anyone from talking which was very empowering.
“At the end of every meeting she told us all to ‘eat cake’ which is genius – it gives you permission to enjoy life again despite your loss. In the early days of STEPS if someone cracked a joke and I laughed, I’d feel a stab of guilt, thinking ‘I’m at grief counselling so I shouldn’t laugh’ but we were encouraged to embrace the next stage of life and to stay in touch with our other emotions.
“Natalie brings a personal perspective to grief recovery; there are no long, fancy words but as someone who has lived through the process you can relate to her straight away. She gives you the opportunity to talk about your loss and the tools to carry on without your loved one whilst not forgetting them. Natalie does this in her own free time but it must be very rewarding to see the difference in the bereaved by week six.”
Like many people, Bal repeated the course as her grief was initially so raw she struggled to digest the information given first time round.
She added: “The second time I was in much more of a positive space mentally and emotionally and felt ready to share things. I felt I could say to the newcomers ‘you know what, guys, you have these moments…nobody has the answers – it’s not textbook – but the group does provide a safe environment to address your grief in a positive way. The atmosphere of trust is so powerful; you feel honoured that someone is letting you into a private part of their lives.
“Sharing pictures of your loved one is also impactful. I’d never dealt with grief before and it gave me confidence to know that I wasn’t the only one struggling emotionally, depressing though that may sound. I think I would be in a very different place without STEPS – it really is a lifeline. My concern is that if grieving people don’t get the support they need they can fall off the radar and retreat into their shell because they are experiencing so many different emotions that they don’t know how to deal with.”
Bal, who is Sikh, added: “I never felt STEPS was based on a particular faith and this helped restore my faith in humanity because death doesn’t discriminate. I never felt judged or vulnerable because of my race or beliefs – we were all united in our grief – so I would encourage anyone to take part.
“This programme is phenomenal and really needs to be packaged and delivered across Wales. I can’t thank Natalie and Tovey Bros enough for STEPS – it really is commendable that it’s free and open to anyone with no geographical limitations. Your grief doesn’t end when the funeral of your loved one has taken place, rather, that’s just the start of the journey and that’s when you need support the most, at a time when you are feeling especially vulnerable.”