Written by Catherine Betley, MD of Professional Help and GriefChat®

At the risk of seriously dating myself, I’ll admit to being a child of the early ‘90s. As a teenager, I had fairly eclectic musical tastes and considered myself to be something of a rock/indie chick. Growing up in a northern town just a stone’s throw away from the ‘Madchester’ scene, it was inevitable that I would encounter and grow to love one of the more prolific bands at the time, james. In 1992 they followed up their massive hit ‘Sit Down’ with a song called ‘Born of Frustration’. Some of you might remember it, it’s a pretty memorable number with plenty of swirling trumpets and singer Tim Booth howling at the moon in a perfect musical illustration of his frustration with the world. I loved it.

Twenty years later, the levels of frustration so tunefully demonstrated by james had become a feeling that I was accustomed to. For well over ten years I had struggled to ensure that the people who came to the charity where I worked were able to access timely, high-quality bereavement care. Despite my best efforts (and those of many others), the ability to enable people to speak directly to a bereavement counsellor within a matter of days or even weeks remained elusive. The same problem persists today; there are simply too many calls, too much demand and not enough people to respond to it. In 2012, as I reluctantly left my ‘proper job’ to bring up a small army of children in the Cumbrian countryside, I remained determined that one day, I would apply myself once more to that problem. And more to the point, I would solve it.

Fast forward to a beach in Abu Dhabi in mid-2017. I was lying on my sun lounger, contemplating my next cocktail and flicking through Facebook (those who know me will attest that this is not especially unusual) when it occurred to me that here was the answer. The only way we were ever going to meet the demand for bereavement advice and support would be to abandon our historical ‘face to face support is always better’ stance and actually embrace the technology we had in front of us. It was pretty obvious really – instant messaging rather than making phone calls was becoming the norm and when I wanted to ask an online store a question about a potential purchase, I rarely bothered emailing them – I expected that there would be a little pop-up box somewhere on the website where I could get hold of someone directly and quickly find out what I needed to know. Why not apply this to bereavement care? Why shouldn’t bereaved people be able to speak directly to a bereavement counsellor and find out what they needed to know? Why shouldn’t bereavement care be instantly accessible, in the same way that good customer service is? And so, on that day, GriefChat was born.

As much as I have high regard for the important staff counselling and ‘traditional’ bereavement care services that I have developed and led in recent years, I’m still proudest of GriefChat. In fact when we first started to have bereaved people message us and give us some of the incredible feedback that we receive (my favourite of all time is still “When I heard about this, I was excited, now I’ve experienced it…it’s groundbreaking”), I remember declaring that if I never do anything else in my professional life, then I’ll be content that we have potentially changed the landscape of services for bereaved people. GriefChat isn’t complicated, it makes good use of simple technology that has been around for quite some time. In the words of the famous advert it ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ – GriefChat provides bereaved people with instant access to a professional bereavement counsellor and for organisations that work with bereaved people, it provides fast access, high-quality bereavement support directly from your website.

There is much more to come. Eighteen months on from launching GriefChat, we have a small cohort of committed partners providing the service from their websites, many bereaved people from all over the world visiting those websites and talking about their experiences of grief, and a team of wonderful counsellors who have patiently learned how to use instant messaging technology to carefully craft helpful and supportive conversations with grieving people of every kind. This year we will be looking to grow our reach. My long term aim is to provide a service which enables a million bereaved people to reach out, share their story and gain comfort and support. We can only do this with more partners both in the UK and abroad, with a new GriefChat website (we actually won ‘Best Bereavement Site’ at the Good Funeral Awards 2018 without even having a dedicated website!) which offers bereaved people a range of useful and supportive options as well as the chat function itself and the resources and expertise to scale up to meet the demand and range of bereavement care services that we feel are most effective in this changing world. GriefChat may have been ‘born of frustration’ but hopefully it’s brought a whole new tune to play in the bereavement arena.   

I hope you’ll join us. Whether you’re a small independent funeral director who would like a free link to www.griefchat.co.uk, if you can spread the news about our service to your clients through sharing our social media activity (we’re @GriefChatUK on both Facebook and Twitter), or if you would like to add the GriefChat box to your website and provide the service for your bereaved clients (it can even be co-branded to your organisation) then please do get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.