The death of a loved one prompts many of us to take up fundraising, campaigning or even starting our own charities. It can be a valuable way of meeting people in a similar situation, creating something meaningful out of a tragedy and keeping busy as we adjust to all the changes in our life.
However, losing yourself in a cause is not a good idea for your health and when your health suffers, your cause will too. Therefore here are our tips on looking after yourself so that you can do the best job of honouring your loved one.
- Learn from the experts
Volunteer for a big and well-supported charity first, so that you can learn about how they look after their volunteers, learn from other volunteers about how they look after themselves and learn from your own responses about what feels like too much or not quite right or just fine.
I spoke to Donal Gallagher, Bereavement Development Programme Manager for Macmillan Cancer Support.
“Bereavement is one of the main motivations for people who donate money and volunteer their time to Macmillan,” says Donal. “There are many ways to volunteer. Some people offer their support simply by sharing their story with our case study team so we can use it to let others know they’re not alone in what they’re going through.”
The information pack that Macmillan sends to all volunteers contains details on how to get support for yourself. Donal says, “Providing support and fundraising opportunities are both integral to our work. Our fundraising staff who work with our volunteers and supporters are trained in both how to help people understand ways in which they can raise funds and to lend a sympathetic ear and direct people on to our support services if they need it.”
Macmillan offers a comprehensive range of support groups, a helpline and online forums for people affected by cancer, which extends to family and friends. Volunteers, as much as everyone else, are welcome to use these services. You can find them all, along with lots of practical information, on their website
“We don’t have a cut off point for using our services,” says Donal, “People’s need for support can be triggered by other life events, another death of someone close or receiving a cancer diagnosis themselves. Macmillan is always there to help.”
- Treat yourself like a professional
Take a leaf out of Donal and Macmillan’s book and write down all the support you can draw on. Tip: make contact with anyone and everything supportive, long before you need them because they might be able to help you avoid some pitfalls.
List all the organisations offering support to people affected by what you’ve been through. If there are local groups, join them now
List your personal support network – the people you can rely on to babysit, petsit, fix your computer, listen to your worries or come round at 4am just because
Professional fundraisers and campaigners know that their volunteers need to enjoy their experience or they won’t return so for each task that you set yourself, look at how you can make it enjoyable for you. For example, if you need to cold call fifty people, asking for their support, can you do this with a group of friends and turn it into your own mini telethon? If you need to spend all Saturday researching upsetting information, can you instead do one hour each evening, rewarded with a favourite tv show and then give yourself a ‘work’s outing’ to the beach on Saturday?
- Be a good boss
Write down the hours you are available, as you’d do if you were applying for a volunteer job. If you would only be able to give two or four or six hours a week to a charity then that is how much time you can give to your cause. Schedule this time in your diary and stick to it.
If you miss a ‘shift’, don’t make yourself make up time in the middle of the night, just pick up where you left off, next time.
Don’t allow yourself to be available 24/7 to the cause. If you’ve done your set amount of hours for the week, screen your calls and ignore any cause-related emails until your next shift.
- Know the signs of doing too much
Soldiering on until you grind to a halt will require a long recovery time so think tortoise not hare. At the first sign of any of these things, slow down and bring more balance into your life:
Becoming irritated or upset over minor things
Feeling tired or sad all the time
Regularly feeling anxious or overwhelmed
Sleeping too much or too little
Eating too much or too little
Feeling tension aches in your head and body
Losing interest in things you normally enjoy
- Regain balance
The more enjoyable elements we can fit into our day, the more energy we have for work and our responsibilities to others. Therefore, assuming your cause is one element of your life, fit these seven other aspects into your life every week. Yes, all seven, some way or somehow, every week.
- Family and friendships. Even if you don’t feel nearly as sociable as usual, keep channels of communication open and look for new things to try with new people
- Work. If you’re not attending your usual job, have some task or goal to work towards that is different to your cause, e.g. research a career change or part-time study or take on a small volunteer role that’s completely different to everything else you do
- Health. Make time for regular exercise in your schedule. It might be going for an hour-long walk every other day or incorporating a Zumba DVD into your morning routine. What do you do for your mental health each week? If the answer is nothing then starting to read articles about wellbeing or listening to healthy living podcasts will give you ideas
- Spiritual wellbeing. We all benefit from feeling part of something bigger than ourselves. For some that comes from religious practice, others find it in meditation and for others it can be singing in a choir, playing in a team, supporting a team, dancing in formation, mountain climbing, swimming or acting in a play. Do something that lifts you out of you and makes you feel at one with a bigger source of energy
- Fun and adventure. A life that was all mountain climbing or acting in plays would still be unbalanced. We need things that make us laugh and bring new ideas into our life. This could be a coffee with a friend or a daytrip to somewhere you haven’t been before or planning a getaway to somewhere exotic
- You time. This is not housework or errand-running time but quiet time where you just catch up with you
- Rest. As a recently bereaved person you need more rest than usual so it’s a priority too
If you get involved with other charities, reach out for support and work hard at keeping an enjoyable balance in your life, your cause or campaign will benefit from being run by such a well-connected and relaxed you.
Image by iStock.com/Cathy Yeulet