In bed with Mary….still

Corona is not good. This morning I woke up feeling well and went to talk to my friend Rachael who was leaving goodies on the car bonnet – paracetamol for me and baking kits for the children – and we talked. Through the window. It was open just a little bit and she was over four meters away but I just know that she will go home and worry that she was too close. God bless her, and all of those friends that give me stuff. I have never been more delighted to receive green soup and brightly wrapped toilet rolls, in all of my life. Friends are the gifts that keep giving. Gifts. I’m so lucky to have them.

I usually talk to Oliver through an ajar door, but this morning I went to see him, he is in our daughter’s room. He looks, not that great. I tried to make him breakfast but then, no. Can’t do it, my lungs won’t let me, so I huff up the stairs and have an adrenalin surge of fear.

I tell Oliver on the facetime app, I am scared. We are all scared, he says. I tell him, I need comfort. We all need comfort, he says. Then I try and make a joke about me taking his temperature and I am too tired to laugh so I click the off switch and then I send him a message. [would you like to read my notes from York College on counselling skills, and how to listen to people with empathy, I think they may help you, help me LOL]. He answers, in his loving way [no].

So today’s story is going to be about counselling skills, who needs them and how to use them.

Part 3. Counselling skills, who needs them and how to use them.

Everyone needs counselling skills, if you want to actually understand what someone is saying. Just because we speak the same language does not mean we understand each other. No. Counselling skills help you feel empathy and help you clarify the message that is being conveyed. Basically put, counselling skills help you listen and talk with people who want to share things with you. It helps you, to help them. It encourages those who talk to you, to express themselves. It encourages them to, talk. In confidence. With honesty.

So, for example. When I say to Oliver, I feel scared. If he had attended the Counselling Course Level 3 with me every Wednesday at York College from 6-9pm, he would know that the best way to reply would be thus: “I understand you feel scared, You are in a difficult situation being on your own in your room with nothing but midget gems and your bright loo roll and mega pack paracetomol to comfort you through your coronavirus, in what way do you feel scared, can you explain how you feel, in more detail, is it brought on by the physical sensation in your lungs, my love?”

But he doesn’t come to York College with me on a Wednesday night from 6-9pm so I have to comfort myself. I call him again, tell him, I love him. He says, he loves me back. I feel better. And my breathing has improved by now, too. I am back in bed.

It is interesting though going to college in York on a Wednesday from 6-9. We have lot’s of gritty discussions and we are taught to question things that really make you sit up in your chair. For example, we were asked the question, how would you feel counselling a murderer? Not every day you think about doing things like that, is it? It also makes you realise what your triggers are, how you respond to people and this all starts from when you were younger. And me too. Your parents have a lot to answer for. And, so do mine. But they are no longer alive so they are exempt. That is why, just the other day when my eldest daughter asked if she could dye her hair blue I said, sure thing, Babycakes. I don’t want her to have issues around me not allowing her to express herself. And now, she wanders the house with hair that is definitely, not blue. From now on, I shall call her, Midori. Whether I had said yes or no, to the hair dye, is by the by. Parent’s can, not, win. End of.

So, the counselling course Level 3 was the idea of an old school friend of mine, Michelle. I used to phone her up from the crematorium car park with clammy palms. Michelle, I don’t think I am not properly qualified, not really, to do funerals. I am not a priest, I don’t wear a dog collar. And she would say great things like, “I appreciate you are feeling a bit worried now and that will be because you are about to go and stand in front of 170 mourners, you aren’t a fan of long boxes or black limousines and this can’t help, can it?. And Mary, lets face it, you have only been doing this job for three months. This is what you might call, learning on the Job. You do it with your heart, and that’s the main thing. I am thinking of you and praying for you, you will be fine, but it’s understandable that you have clammy palms”

Don’t you just love Michelle? She says all the right things. So far. And then she went on to tell me that she is doing a counselling course, Level 4 (clearly) and that it might help to take a course to help me deal with everyone’s grief, as well understanding my own grief. And then she went on to say that her class, in her local college, had just been on a residential weekend. Each class member had to stand up and tell the story of their life to the rest of the class, with a chosen piece of music. It was a difficult exercise, she said, but we all got through it. Everyone has a really sad story to tell, she said. Just like me and you. They just don’t share it.

When she said this, the big black car with the coffin pulled up and I thought, yes. Everyone has a sad story to tell. Some have more stories than others. And the family that I saw walk towards me with their heavy shoulders and tears, well, this was a day that would be written into their own sad story. I wiped dry my damp palms and got out of the car to do the job I was there to do. To perform a formal and heartfelt farewell. With prayers and hymns.

Later that week, Wednesday evening to be precise, I attended my counselling course level 3 at York College. This week we went through those wonderful things called boundaries and where you would draw the line. We discussed hugging. Would it be allowed? Lots of students said no, they wouldn’t give a hug, it wouldn’t feel like that professional thing to do. I say that I would. I am alone in my opinion.

Then the teacher asked us; But what if it was an elderly gentleman whose wife had just died and he was sobbing his heart out? Most of the class then agreed that this man would be hugged, if the need arose, although not too tightly, he might also be a bit frail and crumbly.

That week I got to practice some active listening skills used by professional counsellors. I went to the dive thru MacDonalds on Monks Cross for a coffee. Which of course, turns into a a chicken select and an apple pie as soon as the window goes down and I speak to the little pillar. I drive to pay the attendant and she asks me if I am having a nice day? I am polite and ask her the same question. I want to know.

She tells me that no she is not having a good day. I seize my opportunity and ask her why. I practice my active listening skills whilst negotiating contactless payment with the chunky pay wand she pushes towards my face.

She tells me – My boyfriend has been taking my phone off me and hiding it for days on end. That’s terrible I say, you must feel awful. It’s Ok she says, I hide his phone too, so I get him back. I have paid, I am still actively listening and then I say, ‘Good for you!’

Note: I am still learning, I am yet to pass level 3. And 4 and 5!

Everyone needs to be listened to don’t they, the young and old, the sick, the healthy, the worried, the frantic, the happy, the sad….

And so now I go, to Facetime husband once again, as I think it is he, who may be need of some comforting from me. These are strange times indeed. I couldn’t agree with you, more.

Be happy everyone, until the next time… xxx

And if you have some spare change please clickety click on my funding page to help set up a charity that helps those lonely and isolated through grief and loss.