Karen Pirt, is the Senior Family and Bereavement Worker at Hospice at Home West Cumbria. To highlight the work of the Family and Bereavement Support Team during Hospice Care Week, Karen shares details of her role, and how the work of the teams supports people during the most difficult times.

I feel blessed and privileged to offer emotional support to other human beings during their most vulnerable days. It is more than a job to me and I am grateful to those people who allow me into their lives and let me walk alongside them on their journeys. I never forget each person and the path we walk together.

My work is varied however supporting those in need is embedded and weaves its way throughout everything that I do.

I work with people who are in some way impacted by a life limiting illness; they might be living with their illness or it may be a family member or they may have been bereaved of their loved one.

We live in a society where people struggle to talk about death and dying; it’s not something we are comfortable with. When people’s lives are impacted with dying and death they can feel they have no one to talk to about their thoughts and feelings; they don’t want to ‘burden’ others. We can offer each person a safe and confidential space to share thoughts and feelings around their fears, anger, deep grief, loss, guilt, emotional pain, anxiety or whatever is important to them. People report that they can find some small relief, a little moment of peace, some emotional release or thinking space at a time when their lives feel overwhelming and out of control.

Each day for my work I connect with kindness, empathy and respect focussing on each individual and their grief and loss.

I acknowledge the importance of each individual persons right to explore their grief in the most helpful way to them. Part of my role has been developing and facilitating group support; it has been very rewarding to watch the groups grow and flourish. At the last session we ask the group members “What, if anything have you found helpful?” Here are a selection of their replies:


  • I found the group helpful because it gave me a chance to talk to other people in the same situation as myself, plus I found everyone so caring and considerate.


  •  This group has helped me tremendously. We are all in the same boat. We have also received some good tips and advice from our facilitator.


  •  It has been most beneficial to me. Being with people who have lost someone dear to them. Listening and sharing our sadness together. I am very grateful for your encouragement to join the Bereavement Group. I just want to say thank you for your support at all times.


  •  Able to share my situation with others who understand if not completely in the same position. Mutual respect and understanding.


  •  It has been most beneficial to me. Being with people who have lost someone dear to them. Listening and sharing our sadness together. I am very grateful for your encouragement to join the Bereavement Group. I just want to say thank you for your support at all times.


It is vitally important that we explore and discuss with each person what might be the most helpful support for them. Part of my week involved having these conversations with people; working gently together to understand their experience and what might help. Every person gets this individualised meeting and from there I will arrange for support to begin.

I work alongside 12 fabulous FABS volunteers (Family and Bereavement Support Volunteers). I am so delighted that part of my role involves developing and delivering their training, watching them grow and then witness the incredibly positive impact they have on other’s lives…simply by listening and being able to sit quietly with incredibly strong distress and emotional pain offering no judgement but only meaningful and heartfelt empathy. They do this both in the groups and also meet with individuals on a one to one basis. A large part of my week is also spent working with people one to one. This support is provided for as long as a person needs it and finds it helpful. The comments they leave in their evaluations really demonstrates just how important this support can be:


  • It was good to talk to someone independent from family and friends.


  • I feel much better emotionally and physically and I can look to the future positively.


  • An invaluable service provided by truly amazing, caring people. I don’t think I would have coped during the last year without the team.


  • I no longer feel that my emotions and views are unique and wrong. I was given the support by someone with the experience to confirm that everything I have done and continue to do are right and that my thoughts and emotions are normal and valid.


I love learning and sharing learning; I have been given the opportunity to develop several different training activities including an interactive learning experience around bereavement. I passionately believe that education is the most powerful tool in encouraging and empowering individuals to speak and understand death, dying and loss. I hope that in the future we are more able to support each other during this absolute universal human experience of death and dying and loss.

My work with HHWC has also resulted in some unexpected but highly rewarding volunteering opportunities. I have spoken at remembrance services; organised a choir of patients, carers, those bereaved, staff, volunteers, turned little ones into fairies and pirates and tigers through the magic of face paint. I have spoken at many groups and meetings about the amazing work HHWC provides and along the way have met some wonderful people. I even got to make Prince Charles a cup of tea.

I often get told “I couldn’t do your job lass”; I couldn’t either without the support of my colleagues and HHWC. I work with the most committed, kind and loving group of people; all dedicated to supporting those at end of life or experiencing loss. They also support me! I can ask anyone for advice or a listening ear and they will always find time for me…of course I do the same back. I have regular clinical and managerial supervision. I work hard on caring for myself so that I can offer support ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup …Take care of yourself first’. I find that taking time with beautiful nature, a little slow stitching and time with family and friends fills my cup to overflowing!

Karen Pirt; Senior Family and Bereavement Support Worker