'To have someone to listen to is important'
PATRICIA Hannon was 17 when her mother died tragically. Her personal grief was to remain for many years. It was not until after the break-up of her marriage that she fully realised it.
Patricia said: "I was separated in 1985. I was living in rural Ireland and at that time being separated made me feel like an outcast.
"I was very, very ashamed of my situation. I had nowhere to turn. I had all these different feelings and did know what they were about."
In 1988, Patricia's life was to change.
"The late Bishop of Elphin, Most Rev Dr Dominic Conway, sent a Sligo-born Priest, Fr Padraic Greene to Boyle. He was involved in Family Ministry and called a meeting for separated people. It led to the setting up of the 'Beginning Experience' in this area.
"This helps people cope with the loss of a relationship through death, separation or divorce. We held our first weekend in Dunamon, Roscommon in 1988. For me, it was an intensely emotional experience.
"While we were there to reflect on the break-up of our marriage, I quickly realised I needed to grieve the death of my mother.
"Grief had not been acknowledged as I grew up. It was like a block of ice inside me had melted."
Patricia then decided she would set out on a path to support others in their grief.
The former North Western Health Board set up a Bereavement Counselling service in Sligo/ Leitrim in 2000.
Patricia began her work for the service four years later. Since then, she has supported hundreds of people cope with their grief-many in the most tragic of circumstances.
Patricia said: "The service has evolved into one which primarily sees people with traumatic grief. It involves breavement by suicide, road traffic accidents, drownings, etc.
"However, bereavement can be traumatic no matter what the circumstances. Some people find it very difficult to cope with the loss of a loved one. That's where this service tries to help."
While grief is normal and most people find their own way through it, some need support.
Patricia said: "Some people find that their grief is unrelenting.
"They may be 'stuck' in their grief. In some cases, a death could have occurred ten years ago, but people still may have to work through their grief.
Patricia feels that "the death of a child is particularly difficult" as she is a mother herself.
Most of Patricia's referrals come from GPs, but there are also 'self referrals'.
Patricia covers the Sligo/Leitrim and West Cavan area.
"We have an assessment appointment at the start. We then look to see can we support people in a professional, caring way on their journey through grief.
"Obviously, we can't bring a loved one back, but we can be part of a person's story. To have someone listen to is very important. Grief is a normal reaction to loss. Everyone's loss is different and everyone's grief is different."
The Breavement Service is very well structured. There are six sessions with a person initially and then each situation is reviewed.
"We just take a look at where we are. Grief doesn't have a timetable."
She added: "I think you have to be genuine and have a deep empathy with the person you are supporting. I need to be in the same place as the person in front of me at a particular moment. I empathise with their pain and try understand it."
Patricia is retiring from the HSE in two years.
She will, however, continue as a grief specialist. "This is a great service to have here. It's not available in every county. It's important it continues."
Patricia can be contacted on a confidential telephone line: 071-91-55108.