Search

WAY volunteers' stories

June 2020

Celebrating WAY Volunteers: Lizzie’s story

To celebrate Volunteers’ Week 2020, we are talking to different WAY volunteers about why they volunteer for WAY. Today, we talk to Welsh WAY member Lizzie, who is a key member of the subgroup WAYWocs for WAYers without children. Lizzie was the winner of WAY’s Mandy Burrows Award in 2020 for her outstanding contribution to our charity…

When did you join WAY and why?

I joined in 2014, three days after my husband Phil died, as I had already Googled what support might be available. Phil died three weeks after being diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. We had been together for quite a few years and even managed to get married during those three weeks. It was a whirlwind – from nothing being wrong to everything being wrong.

How did WAY help you on a personal level?

If you want to survive, you have to surround yourself with survivors – find people who have had the same struggles because they will help you get through it. It was great to meet people just like me – who feel the pain but who also have hopes for the future. I could laugh with them without feeling guilty. I’ve not used the telephone counselling services that is available to WAY members, but knowing that they are there is really important to me.

WAY helped me make a new circle of lifelong friends and got me travelling again. I’m thriving now and I probably wouldn’t be if it weren’t for that support in the early years.

I intend to be a lifetime supporter of WAY and will continue to pay my £25 membership every year even after I have left WAY. I feel very strongly that it’s important to pay it forward to a charity that was there for me in my darkest hour. I hope that other WAY members will feel the same.

When did you start volunteering for WAY?

11 months after joining WAY I became one of four admins for the WAYers Without Children (WAYWOCs) Facebook group.

Tell us a bit more about your volunteering role and what it involves?

WAYWOCs has around 780 members so the admin role is quite a big one. We add new members, make sure interactions run smoothly and harmoniously, and we’re very strict about our rule of kindness – don’t judge other people.

I also organise events, in particular the annual weekend in Manchester, and my niche role is to put up more motivational posts. For example, I set up a random acts of kindness event over a year, where I buddied up people anonymously and each month they had to send the other person a gift, card or other token.

What do you get out of being a WAY volunteer on a personal level?

I found that in the past, when I immersed myself in my own self-pity, I lost perspective. By looking towards others, that gets me out of myself and occupies me in a way that is fruitful. If you focus on the outside world, you begin to experience gratitude. It’s good to reach out to people and experience love and kindness in a really tough world.

Do you have any advice for others who might be considering volunteering for WAY?

If you’re thinking about volunteering, you’re already the person we need. WAY is built on volunteers who are giving it back. So many people don’t know we’re there – so as a volunteer, you could literally be changing someone’s life for the better!

Volunteer for what you feel able to do – even if it’s just giving out name badges at an event. It doesn’t have to be a huge volunteering role – you can do a little but it’s all going towards the greater whole.

Celebrating WAY Volunteers: Kirsty's story

We hear from Scottish WAY member Kirsty, who set up a buddy system to help WAY members through the coronavirus lockdown…

When did you join WAY and why?

I joined WAY in April 2015 after my boss mentioned WAY to me. She didn’t give me any information but I Googled WAY and after deliberating how a charity like WAY could help me, I joined. I decided early on that I needed to include new people in my life who understood what I was going through and I also needed to create new memories.

How did WAY help you on a personal level?

WAY enabled me to speak to people who ‘got it’ and also to speak to people further down the line, giving me hope that one day, I might feel better and be in a position to live the life I had been left with. I have met many people online and also met up with quite a few members, some of whom are now my closest friends.

When did you start volunteering for WAY?

It was about 18 months after Andrew died. The Area Contact asked if I would be interested in helping new members living close to me as the area we cover in Central Scotland is so large.

Tell us a bit more about your volunteering role and what it involves?

I introduced the buddy system in response to lockdown. One of the things we miss post-loss is having someone checking in on us, making sure we’re OK. It’s also good for us to have someone to do that for. When lockdown was announced, I could only imagine the solitude and increase in anxiety, so I asked the members of WAY Scotland and WAY Cumbria what they thought about a buddy system.  There was a very positive response, so I set about pairing up members.

I tried not to pair people who might know each other as it’s good to get to know members in other areas. They might become good friends and meet up in person, thus increasing their social circle and, in some cases, enable them to take the step and visit new areas of the country.

What do you enjoy about being a WAY volunteer and what are the challenges?

I enjoy being in a place emotionally where I feel I can offer hope to members and let them know that they are not alone, that this is ‘normal’. To have a member tell you that you have really helped them get to a better place is beyond words. I don’t do it for the gratitude – I’m a natural ‘fixer’ and if I can make someone’s life easier or more bearable, I will try to help if I can.

The challenges are when a new member’s pain takes you back to day one, a place you don’t want to revisit. However, it is important to acknowledge that pain with more ‘healed eyes’ and with the experience that time brings, as it’s vital new members get the support they so desperately need. I also find the time factor a challenge as life is very busy.

Do you have any advice for others who might be considering volunteering for WAY?

Do it! You will be part of a team and you will be paying back the support you received early on or maybe providing the support that you wish you had received and, for whatever reason, did not.

Celebrating WAY Volunteers: Aimee’s Story

Meet our social media volunteer Aimee, who has been nominated for a Mandy Burrows Award for her outstanding contribution to WAY.

When did you join WAY and why?

I joined WAY in 2015 after the sudden and unexpected death of my partner, Marky, from a heart attack. No warning signs at all… within a split second my universe was thrown off its axis when the police turned up at my door to tell me. He was 39 (and I was 26). 

I really wanted to connect with people who were going through the same thing… suddenly losing your partner in your 20s leaves you in a completely alien world with no one to relate to and I desperately felt the need to connect with people who understood.

How did WAY help you on a personal level?

WAY is my lifeline and anchor, my new home in this life I didn't ask for. I’m honestly not sure if I would be here today without the charity. There’s no other place as kind and supportive where you can let out your grief thoughts without having to explain or defend them; people just get it and understand what you’re going through as they’ve been through it too. The kindness, wisdom and support are always there. Our loss is understood within each other and we support each other through every part of life that grief touches (which is of course everything). WAY is a little bit of magic in a world that can often feel so alien as a young widow.

When did you start volunteering for WAY?

I became a social media volunteer at the start of last summer… I thought I’d love to be involved in getting the message out there about the charity that has helped me so much, so more people who need us can find us!

Tell us a bit more about what you do for WAY, what it involves and what you get out of being a WAY volunteer on a personal level.

I help with the creation of public social media posts and campaigns on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I find images to use and the right words (from members where possible) so we can reach out to people who need to find us. My personal favourite kind of campaigns to work on (as I come from a background of working in mental health) are things such as self-care advice, dispelling grief myths and mental health awareness and tips. I love reaching out and replying to people’s comments on social media so they know there are people there who understand and that what they’re feeling is normal in grief. Our culture is so bad at talking about death and bereavement that the grieving are often left unsupported… I’m passionate about raising awareness of the realities of living with grief.

Do you have any advice for others who might be considering volunteering for WAY?

Do it! There are lots of different ways to volunteer for WAY in small and big ways and add to the community. It feels good to give back to a charity that has been my lifeline and anchor since being widowed young. 

Tell us something surprising about yourself!

I’m incredibly short at 4’11”… but I make up for it with a ridiculous and epic shoe collection! I especially adore my glittery unicorn and spike heels, heels with a birdcage in the heel and heels with a carousel horse in the heel!

Celebrating WAY Volunteers: Lisa's story

We talk to WAY member Lisa, who set up a subgroup for fellow geeks and nerds – and has been nominated for WAY’s Mandy Burrows Award for her outstanding contribution to our charity…

When did you join WAY and why?

I joined WAY in April 2018, two days after my husband Gary’s funeral, because I had nobody around me who could relate and it was all just a bit too overwhelming.

Gary was the most wonderful, intelligent, geeky, funny and loving man. He passed away from a heart attack after suffering with angina for three years. He was in A&E as he felt unwell when the heart attack happened. Thankfully I was with him. The staff were wonderful and supportive but sadly his heart was just too weak.

How did WAY help you on a personal level?

WAY Widowed and Young has helped me beyond words. The support of people to talk to who just know how it feels when I need to vent on a tough day – or want to mention something really small that has reminded me of Gary that has made me feel sad. They reassure me that every single emotion I am feeling is valid.

When did you start volunteering for WAY?

About a month after I joined.

Tell us a bit more about your volunteering role and what it involves

I came up with the idea of starting a Facebook group for WAY members who shared my and Gary’s love of all things “geeky/nerdy”. If I was missing out on the geeky chat and dreading watching the shows and films that Gary was so looking forward to watching, I knew I couldn’t be the only one. It didn’t take long for me to find so many other members who were seeking the same outlet. The private group, for WAY members past and present, is called WAGAN – Widowed and Awesome Geeks and Nerds.

In less than two years, the group has grown to 350 members, who discuss a whole host of themes such as history/film/technology/space/cosplay, but who are also there to discuss the emotional impact of not having their partner to share their passions any more. It can be hard to watch a film that their partner would have loved and talking with others who understand that can really help. The Marvel films, Game of Thrones, these are big events for many members, and we have supported each other in taking these steps to get to a place where we can enjoy entertainment again.

What do you enjoy about being a WAY volunteer and what are the challenges?

I love reading the posts that people put in the group and sharing their excitement about something they love, and seeing the friendships that form. I haven’t found any real challenges running the group, they are just wonderful people.

What do you get out of being a WAY volunteer on a personal level?

Setting up and running the group has given me a sense of family and support. In losing Gary, I lost my chance to have a child, who we had planned to raise as an ‘uber-geek/nerd’, but now I feel like all of the WAGANs are my kids!

Do you have any advice for others who might be considering volunteering for WAY?

Do it! WAY is a family, not an organisation, and helping out in any way brings so much happiness. Create a Facebook group, offer to write to those who are lonely, become an area contact – there are so many different ways you can help, big or small.

Tell us something surprising about yourself!

My accent changes subconsciously depending on who I am talking to. I was born in Croydon but raised in Aberdeen and it seems to have mucked up my accent. One minute I will sound like a Londoner, next Canadian, then broad Doric (Aberdonian) – you never know what will come out of my mouth next!

Celebrating WAY Volunteers: Tracey's story

We talk to WAY member Tracey, who has organised gifts swaps for children of WAY members at Christmas and during lockdown – and has been nominated for WAY’s Mandy Burrows Award for her outstanding contribution to our charity…

When did you join WAY and why?

My husband Nadeem was in the Pakistan Navy and I worked at the naval college. In September 2013, two armed men on a motorbike opened fire on us, shooting me in the arm and Nadeem in the neck – he died almost instantly. Our son was only two at the time and we came back to Teesside, where I was brought up, to be with my mam.

I joined WAY not long after as I’d seen it mentioned in a book a friend gave to me.

How did WAY help you on a personal level?

In the beginning, it was just a good sounding board – I was constantly posting online. I think grief makes you go a bit funny! The anonymity helped – I could say anything and just tell my story. Then I began to meet people and I found a lot of support from people who just get it. My son and I went to the family weekend at Centre Parcs, which was just the best place to meet people – we’ve been five times now.

Tell us a bit more about your volunteering role and what it involves?

I started organising an adult Secret Santa because when bereavement happens, a lot of focus goes on the children but it’s nice to have another adult thinking specifically about you. It’s grown over the years to over 90 adults across the country and I organise it all through Facebook.

Two years ago, I took over the Secret Santa that was being done for children – we had 110 children last year. Parents can nominate a child as a priority, for example, if there’s financial hardship. It’s all based on trust but that child will get more presents as a result. Adults volunteer to buy presents, sometimes for more than one child.

It can be stressful if people drop out without telling me or don’t reply to messages, but I know that if my son is smiling after receiving a gift, other children will be too.

I’ve introduced a lockdown Secret Squirrel too (which will remain open for as long as lockdown is in place) – anyone who wants to can buy a present for a child. The parent tells me about the child’s likes and dislikes and I then pair them with a ‘squirrel’ who sends a present.

What do you get out of being a WAY volunteer on a personal level?

The smile on my son’s face was amazing when he got his present and I can imagine similar smiles on parents and children alike when receiving their gifts – that’s why I do it.

Do you have any advice for others who might be considering volunteering for WAY?

Do it – but do something that will benefit you too, something you enjoy doing. If you want to meet people, organise a meet-up, or do a Secret Santa if that makes you smile. There are so many people in the same boat and we can all find ways of supporting each other.

Tell us something surprising about yourself!

I quit my job, sold my flat and travelled the world for five months. It was the best trip ever and I did it on my own.

Celebrating WAY Volunteers: Rhona's story

Today, we talk to Scottish WAY member Rhona Bain, who has volunteered for WAY for ten years and received a special award in recognition of her exceptional commitment to WAY as a volunteer for over 10 years.

When did you join WAY and why? 

I joined WAY in November 2007, about two months after my husband Brian had died, after a chance meeting with a girl from WAY at a hotel where my parents had taken me and my boys for a holiday. I knew I needed to find other young widows who could advise and support me, so I joined WAY and that was the start of a long journey back to enjoying life again.

I didn’t know that Brian had taken himself to A&E after feeling unwell. I phoned him to see what time he would be coming home as I thought he was still doing a driving lesson. That was when my life turned upside down as it was a woman who answered his phone (a nurse) asking me to come down to the hospital. Brian had collapsed after having a heart attack – they did everything they could but I think he died straight away.

How did WAY help you on a personal level?

When I first joined, I found it really helpful reading other people’s posts. It made me realise that all I was feeling was normal and I wasn’t actually going mad! My Area Contact got in touch with me the very day I got my welcome letter and from that first meeting, I went to as many meet-ups as I could. I was too worried to go out socially with my old friends and work colleagues but I found being with WAY people much easier.

I went to my first AGM with my area contact and it was just the first of many adventures with WAY: the Scottish weekend, holidays in different parts of the country, other AGMs and even a week’s holiday in Egypt! It really helped to build my confidence again and it was good seeing those who were a bit ahead of me having fun and realising that things would eventually get better.

When did you start volunteering for WAY?
In November 2010 when my Area Contact stepped down. One of my WAY friends agreed to be area contact with me as I didn’t have the confidence to do it on my own – and then I had various people who helped me when she stepped down. After 10 years, I have recently swapped roles and am currently an area assist because I am now a member of WAY Up – which supports those who’ve been widowed over the age of 50 – and have started organising events for our local members.


Tell us a bit more about what you do for WAY and what it involves?

The Area Contact role has changed a lot since I started. At the beginning we would email new members and ask if they wanted to meet up for a chat or speak over the phone but as a result of GDPR, we can only message them through the website. I try to find people who live near a new member or who have had a similar bereavement and put them in touch with one another.

I have also been organising the annual Scottish WAY weekend, although this year (if it goes ahead) will be my last. I attended the weekend for two years and then helped as part of a committee when the chairperson, who had been organising the weekend, stepped down. The following year I somehow found myself taking charge of the committee and my now-fiancé Ronnie and I have run it for the last seven years at Comrie Croft Youth Hostel, with a lot of help from other members. It’s such a wonderful place and the kids have lots of safe space to play in.

What do you enjoy about being a WAY volunteer and what are the challenges?

I enjoy getting members together to support each other and to have fun. I know how much I got out of those meet-ups and I want to give others the same opportunities.

What do you get out of being a WAY volunteer on a personal level?

It makes me feel good helping others and I like being able to give back to such a wonderful charity. It’s also given me the confidence to do more with bereavement support in my local area, including group work in primary schools, volunteering with Cruse and being an active member of the Fife Bereavement Network Group. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do any of those things if I hadn’t been an area contact first.

Do you have any advice for others who might be considering volunteering for WAY?

Give it a go, especially as you can start as an area assist rather than going straight in as the Area Contact. However, it’s important that you’re at the right stage – we’re all dealing with our own grief – so it helps if you are starting to see some positive things in life again.

Tell us something surprising about yourself
!

It’s surprising that I ever became a WAY volunteer because I was so shy at school and found it very difficult to speak to people. If you had told me then that one day I would be volunteering to meet up and speak to people, I wouldn’t have believed you!

Huge thanks to our lovely volunteer Lucy Llewelyn, who helped us to gather these volunteer stories.