The ultimate act of kindness

With this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week focusing on kindness, we’d like to share this story from one of our peer support workers, Colette.

One of our clients died recently. A man no-one knew much about. A man with no family and no real friends. As his Second Step support worker I was probably only one of the few people he could trust. 

I used to annoy him with my weekly unwanted support sessions, but he soon cheered up when he saw the cakes I used to bring him. He had a sweet tooth and I knew those cakes get him talking between mouthfuls.  

I was the only familiar face he saw apart the nursing staff while he lay in his hospital bed at the end.  And I was the only person, apart from my team manager Simon, who attended his funeral. We were there out of respect for Eddie.

Too many deaths 

Covid-19 has brought many deaths. Too many. But among those deaths are those everyday deaths that affect me in my job as a support worker. I work in Bristol in one of the hostels helping people to move from the streets and from spells in mental health hospitals, or who have addiction issues, and get them back into living more normal lives. 

Eddie was one of my clients, and he lived in one of our flats. He had some mental health issues, was extremely stubborn and had a whole host of other problems too. I’d worked with him for the last year, but he’d been hard to reach; not interested in talking to me, with only the odd and infrequent moments of connection. I was his peer worker – which means I use my own experience of mental health problems, trauma and addiction issues in my work. 

I’ll remember that day

The poignancy of Eddie’s death wasn’t lost on me. His funeral took place during week four of the Covid-19 lockdown, and the memory of that day resonated at the time, stays with me, and is the reason why I’m writing this now. 

The weather was beautiful. The stillness of expected sunshine, a light breeze and clear blue skies. I left home with my senses heightened. This was partly because I wasn’t used to leaving my house. I’m scarcely going out during lockdown as I have health problems which mean I need to isolate and stay at home. 

The atmosphere was also charged because I was going to a funeral. The responsibility of giving Eddie a good send-off weighed heavily on me. So, the sunshine felt brighter, the Spring air fresher, the birdsong louder than I had expected. I was nervous as I made my way to the crematorium.

I’d spent some time with the Celebrant helping her put together a eulogy for Eddie. We had so little to work with, but her resulting words were a triumph – really moving, kind and respectful.

Let It Be
Six men carried Eddie’s coffin and I reflected that social distancing didn’t mean much to coffin bearers. I had the honour of walking behind Eddie’s coffin as we moved into the chapel. I knew Simon my manager was walking behind me, and I knew I had to keep it together. I did really well at keeping my tears at bay, I was well prepared though with plenty of tissues.

After the service the Celebrant gave me the CD with the music they’d played for Eddie: Let It Be by the Beetles and Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland.  That made me cry.

Eddie had lived in hostels since 2006, and he’d never settled in all that time. Looking back, I think he had given up during those last few months; though I do believe now he has found some peace.

It’s very hard to see someone give up on themselves, to realise they don’t care if they live or die. But I understood, we all knew, that he’d had enough. He was one of the forgotten people.

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