Widow made to feel 'wrong' for grieving in her own way at her own pace

Video report by ITV Granada correspondent Rob Smith

A widow says she was repeatedly asked to put her dead husband on the phone in order to close his accounts, as she calls for more understanding of those enduring bereavement.

Kelly Harvey, who lost her husband Steve in 2019, says she was often made to feel she was "doing something wrong" because many people do not appreciate how grief works.

"You get on the phone and say they’ve passed away, what do I need to do?" Kelly, from Morecambe, said.

"[They reply] ‘Can I talk to them?’ How? They’re not listening.

"There should be designated people that are there to help people in these sorts of situations instead of just anybody on the phone."

"You feel that you're doing something wrong," she added.

Kelly described putting on a 'mask' to avoid questions from those telling her how she should feel.

"They're not listening to what you're saying," she added.

"There should be designated people to help in these situations rather than anybody reading scripts."

Eventually, Kelly did not want to call anyone or even answer the phone because it made her feel like a "nobody."

"They're not even thinking about you. They're not caring enough to understand.

"It's like they've not listened to you at all."

How we can better deal with bereavement after a pandemic where so many died in such a short space of time? We take a look in the latest episode of our podcast, From the North.

Kelly is among a number of grieving people and support experts who have spoken to ITV News for a series of special reports on how to better deal with bereavement.

She says it did not take long for some people to question how she was processing her loss and how for long.

"You end-up building a mask. There's a smile on your face for the sake of other people.

"It's the biggest thing of all when people are saying to you: 'Oh, you should be over that bit now. You should be going onto stages of grief and you should be at this stage now.'

"No, it doesn't work like that. You grieve at your own pace. You do things that are right for you."

Callum Ferguson sought support to realise his mix of emotions, after the death of his mum Martina, were not wrong. Credit: Callum Ferguson

Callum Ferguson, from Salford, also struggled to deal with expectations of how he should feel, after the death of his mum Martina in 2020.

She had endured a long illness and Callum believes "guilt is a big part of the grieving process".

"There was almost a relief at the end when she died," he said.

"That comes with a huge amount of guilt.

"It's the worst thing that ever happened, why do I feel relieved? But the suffering was over."

The charity worker said he was "lying" to himself about moving forward, while feeling guilt and breaking down in tears.

Callum sought help from a bereavement support charity to process his conflicting emotions and realise that, for anyone who is bereaved, there is no wrong way to grieve.

"I couldn't take any pleasure from successes or happy things that were happening in my life," he said.

"It was all just tinged with this sadness that I couldn't call my mum to tell her about it, and you need those happy moments to keep you moving forward."

The charity worker said support workers were able to "explain things, explain the way you're feeling and the competing emotions that you have.

"It was really important for me in navigating the grief. How you feel is how you feel and it's normal for you."

Experts argue how it feels to say goodbye, to missing someone years after, does not disappear. Instead, they say, a different life - for the bereaved person - forms around it.

Colette Scarbrough-Jelfs, from the charity Widowed and Young, told ITV News that trying to set timescales and stages for grief can "brush things under the carpet".

"Grief stays with you," she said. "Not only the person but the losses that person is never going to see.

"My husband is never going to walk his daughters down the aisle. He's never going to see them graduate.

"They're losses that are going carried by me and my children forever. We're not going to hide them.

"We still want to involve him in our family life."

Psychotherapist Ayesha Aslam, from Sakoon Counselling, is missing part of her own family life after the death of her mother.

Despite the help of both her training and her faith, she still discovered how badly some people could treat a grieving person.

"At that time, Islamically from my faith," she said, "it was encouraged to talk about death, to prepare for death, to share your emotions.

"Also, to be grateful for the times you had with your loved one.

"But, culturally, it was a very taboo subject. So, I was told: 'You're not allowed to talk about your emotions. Don't ever bring up the concept of death.'

"And when people came, they would ignore the whole topic. This really made me feel very lonely."

Finding help to navigate loneliness, navigate the whole future after loss, must be done with care - according to one body overseeing the counselling profession.

Caroline Jesper is in charge of standards for the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and believes it is crucial to know anyone providing support has experience and training.

The BACP are one of several organisations which set standards and keep registers of those in the counselling profession.

"When we go for counselling," she said, "we are often in a vulnerable place - particularly with bereavement.

"It's really important that you're working with somebody who works in a safe, ethical and professional way.

"With an untrained counsellor, you wouldn't have the range of knowledge and skills that are acquired over a long time.

"Counsellor training is very robust and it's a lengthy training."

Whether it is the support of others with similar experiences, family, friends or an independent professional - support has to be right for the individual.

Grief is unique to everyone, as no-one else had that particular relationship with the person who died.

Consequently, the help someone needs will be unique too.

If you are grieving, know someone who is, or have been affected by any of the issues raised above help is available here.