In this interview Fiona Leishman talks openly about what it’s like to be Grief Support Worker and her personal reasons for wanting to help children and young people deal with grief. Fiona finished her training to become a Grief Support Worker in December 2012.

Please can you explain the process you went through in order to become a fully trained Grief Support Worker?

Fiona: I heard about Balloons through word of mouth and I rang them and explained my background and that I wished to join the next available training. Thankfully, I was accepted. The training given by Balloons was fun and thorough. I was part of a small group of about 12 of us, and often we paired up or worked in small groups. Some of my own issues aired themselves during the training and I found support and help in the group as well as from the trainer.

The course was a mix of theory, as well as practical, and I was invited to allow myself to be open to the tasks whilst being aware of my own safety. How the tasks affected me personally showed the potential impact they would have on the children and young people I would be working with.


Please can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Fiona: Whilst living in Cornwall, I joined a charity called Penhaligon’s Friends – which is like a Cornish version of Balloons. I undertook their training and later assisted them on Bereavement Days. I did not work with young people on a one-to-one basis.

I have been fortunate to travel to many parts of the world,  learning about different people, societies, cultures and environments. I believe these experiences have helped me to open my mind and to see beyond my own small world.

I have a degree (BA Hons) in Fine Art and have exhibited some of my work in various galleries, although I have currently stopped producing work. I have also had some poetry published and wish to pursue this further.

Although I have completed various counselling courses, none were to practitioner level, which is my next step. I have also undertaken many years of personal counselling.


What made you want to become a Grief Support Worker?

Fiona: My own background led me to becoming a Grief Support Worker.

My mother died from breast cancer when I was 14 years old. As far as I am aware, there were no services to aid bereaved young people back then and I dealt with it the best way I could which, as it turned out, was to suppress all emotion for about 10 or so years. It was through travelling that I realised how I had ‘dealt’ with her death and clearly it was not working for me so many years later. This lead me to seeking professional help upon my return to the UK when I started facing the issue with Penhaligon’s Friends.

It is important for me to know that no-one has to go through bereavement alone and that there is a service available to aid the young person through the jungle of emotions and to know and have reassurance that no matter what is felt, all is ok!


What do you love about being a GSW?

Fiona: I really enjoy being a Grief Support Worker as I feel I can help young people through their grief and, above all else, give reassurance that there is no ‘wrong’ way in which to grieve as all emotions are valid whether considered ‘bad’ or ‘good’. For most of my latter teens and twenties I was inundated with an overwhelming guilt which has taken me another 10 or so years to understand, accept and release. Being a GSW allows me to share my own learning and to hopefully prevent others having to elongate their bereavement.


Please could you describe what you do as part of your role?

When I’m with a young person I allow myself to be fully present and engaged. This can be through listening, reflecting, paraphrasing. Or as sometimes happens, by me just being there, not saying anything – but allowing the young person to accept me on their terms in their own time.

Depending upon the person, we sometimes use art and craft to explore emotions and to tell their story. Sometimes they only want to talk. Paints, crayons, stickers, all types of crafty stuff can be used in their storytelling. For me the most important thing is that they tell their story in a way which they choose and feel safe whilst doing so.

I find that most of the clients I have seen enjoy and benefit from making a Memory Book. This is a book which explains (in which ever format the young person chooses) their story about the person who has died. This is a great springboard from which to express memories, emotions, hopes, dreams, and fears.

Thank you very much Fiona.

If you too would like to become a Grief Support Worker, please contact the Balloons Team.