For this edition of the Spotlight On… Natalie spoke to Kerry Burns who is the Coordinator for the Bereavement and Wellbeing project Caring for Carers, communities in Sync. Kerry spoke to us about the work of Caring for Carers, the support available to bereaved Carers as well as giving us an insight into her day-to-day life when she is not at work.
Kerry joined the Caring for Carers Bereavement and Wellbeing project in January 2020. The project aims to support Carer’s who have recently been bereaved or who are caring for someone who is receiving palliative and end-of-life care. The service works with these Carer’s in a number of creative ways to help them deal emotionally with bereavement while tackling the practical issues that arise when a loved one passes. Referrals to the Caring for Carers service can be made via telephone or email. When a referral is received Kerry will make the initial contact with the referral and assign the individual to a member of her team who then get to work supporting the client.
The support that Caring for Carers provides is flexible around the unique needs of each bereaved Carer who accesses the service. Carer’s can engage with the project at any stage in their grieving process following their loved ones death. They can also start to access support before their loved one passes away as Kerry explained, “End of life and Palliative care can last a long time, so we do not want to put time stamps on when people come for us to support.” There is also no limit on how long support from Caring for Carer’s lasts as Crossroads understand that the grieving process is complex and no set time frame can predict how long a client will need support.
And the support Carer’s receive from the project is practical as well as emotional; as Kerry points out that many Carer’s who access the service who are recently bereaved will be facing many challenges alongside their bereavement. Kerry explains “if they have been a full-time Carer and they have been accessing Carers Allowance they will find that some of the welfare benefits and support they received will no longer be available. If they had been living in their Carers home they might have to leave, so we will work with the Carer’s to work through these issues, making a list of priorities.”
Kerry and her team have continued to provide support to Carer’s across Birmingham throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, working through creative ways that they can continue to support clients in light of social distancing measures. Like many organisations they have moved a lot of their support online and via telephone, this includes support groups have now moving from face-to-face meetings onto Zoom. Kerry is open about the challenges that are faced when taking community activities online onto Zoom, “There are still a lot of people without internet access and before the pandemic if they needed to use the internet they could access libraries or other services. These are people who don’t have smartphones of laptops; digital exclusion is a big gap we find when working with Carer’s.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has had major impacts on the experience of Carer’s, particularly for Carer’s who are looking after someone who is at end-of-life or who is has lost the cared for person during the pandemic, “Hospitals haven’t been able to operate in the same way and people haven’t been able to have the burials that they would have liked for their loved ones, it’s hard”.
Despite these challenges Kerry and her team remain committed to supporting their clients. The work that Caring for Carers do is a lifeline for the Carer’s that access their support, during our meeting Kerry provided us with a case study of one Carer who had been receiving support from the charity. “When he first came to us he was feeling so low that it felt like his life wasn’t worth living. But he really embraced all the support that we could provide for him.” This particular service user took part in a number of Crossroad Carer’s projects, including the gardening project, Living memory and the support groups, and despite his own ill health made the most of what the project offers, meaning he was able to come to terms with his grief.
Stories like this serve to highlight how important services for Carer’s are, especially when we consider how bereaved Carer’s can feel abandoned when their cared for loved one passes away. Kerry is keen to stress that even small acts of kindness can make a massive difference to bereaved Carers “helping with funeral costs, advising on benefits or even just having people point you in the right direction is great for people who are bereaved as even small tasks can become overwhelming when you’re grieving.”
Kerry herself has an incredibly diverse background, having worked with vulnerable adults in a diverse range of roles from domestic violence support, to working with people who live with Learning Disabilities and those who live with mental illnesses. But it was personal experiences of bereavement that have informed much of Kerry’s role with Caring for Carers; “I lost my dad several years ago and that was my first major grieving process that I experienced. I then lost my mum who lived with dementia and I cared for her for ten years at home. My experience with the loss of my dad helped me to deal a lot better with my mother’s death.” Kerry’s experiences as a Carer encouraged her to take up her role with Caring for Carers. Having experienced caring for a loved one long-term Kerry can empathise with the struggles that Carer’s face.
With much of Kerry’s working life focused on supporting others, we wanted to know what she does to relax when she is not at work. Meditation is a big part of Kerry’s routine and is something that she makes sure to do every morning. Kerry is also incredibly career focused, so enjoys her downtime when she gets it “I live in the countryside so I like to go for walks in nature to unwind. I’m really lucky to have so many beautiful walks on my doorstep.” Kerry also enjoys Yoga and reiki and is a trained reiki practitioner and In the future she would like to see more Carers service’s incorporate meditation, yoga and wellbeing activities as part of their support offers for service users.
Kerry is also conscious of how important it is to be sociable “I recently moved away from my friends and family and it can be quite lonely and isolating. One thing I did was join social groups straight away to help me get to know people in the community. But I recognise that it can be hard to get the courage to go to a social group by yourself, especially as a Carer it takes up so much of your time that you can lose friendships”.
We wanted to know what Kerry had learnt about herself through the pandemic, “For me professionally I have found how fabulous communities are and how they’ve pulled together to support vulnerable people. From food delivery, prescriptions and befriending services it’s really shown that the human race is a great thing and I don’t think we’ve seen community spirit like this in a long time.” Kerry also had praise for Key Workers, including NHS staff: “I’ve really realised how important the NHS is and how hard it must have been for NHS staff having to spend time away from their families so they can care for the sick. It shows a commitment to their work and to wider humanity.”
Going forward Caring for Carer’s plans to continue to support Carer’s to manage through the bereavement process and navigate support services available to them. COVID-19 isn’t slowing the team down and they have been thinking of a number of creative ways they can continue to support Carers safely. We want thank Kerry for her time, and if you would like to find out more about Caring for Carers, including how to access and refer to the service please contact 0121-809-5902 or email Kerry on kerry.burns-BWS@sandwellcrossroads.org.uk
If you know a great community initiative that we should feature contact Natalie Tichareva on Natalie.Tichareva@accordgroup.org.uk