Covid-19 has been a challenge for everyone. I would never say anyone in particular has had it tougher than anyone else but just imagine for a moment how tough it has been for a hospice.

Volunteering at Saint Francis Hospice, I can tell you that staff, patients and bereaved families have risen to the challenge in the most spectacular way.

This is my experience as a volunteer bereavement counsellor. I have actually been volunteering at this beautiful place in Havering-atte-Bower for 11 years, but the past 18 months have been the biggest test.

In counselling, I have loved the face-to-face nature of my work. But when Covid came my role changed completely. No longer were my bereavement sessions in person. Occasionally they would be via Zoom, but most often they were telephone conversations.

Barking and Dagenham Post: Julie Dods' role as a bereavement counsellor changed during CovidJulie Dods' role as a bereavement counsellor changed during Covid (Image: St Francis Hospice)

However, I have been surprised at how relationships have developed - even without the ability to see each other. In the wake of losing a loved one this was still a safe space for them to explore their emotions. These sessions by telephone provided consistency in uncertain times.

Two people come to mind here – both of their lives shaken by bereavement. One client looked forward to my call no matter how painful talking about the loss was.

I supported another client whose loved one had died just before the first lockdown.

This client was not able to grieve naturally with the rituals we all go through when someone we love dies.

It was not until over a year later that the funeral could be held. I would listen whilst the client would try to make sense of it all with an incredibly positive attitude in spite of having a broken heart.

Listening to these emotional life stories has affected me too.

Because of working from home, there was never a car journey home to wind down from those calls.

Instead I would be greeted by my dog waiting expectantly for a second walk and my teenage son desperate for me to make an omelette. Back to reality!

Volunteering gives me purpose, it keeps me grounded and I feel like I am making a difference.

Being part of the hospice, I have admired their determination to find ways of offering support in extraordinary times. I am privileged to be involved.