Find a charity that suits you, volunteering should never be a chore. I have worked with Meals on Wheels, Feel the Magic, Lifeline, The Pyjama Foundation and now volunteer regularly Red Nose on the peer support hotline which is a 24/7 line for grieving parents - a phenomenal service. I wrote this piece for 9 Honey for Volunteers Week.
This week is National Volunteers which celebrates how volunteering builds communities and a stronger society for all Australians. We focus on the immeasurable number of charities across Australia that thrive because of the input of volunteers who offer their resources, knowledge, and time for the causes which are most important to them.
Here at 9Honey we are so grateful to share stories with women across Australia and empower them with tools to overcome their hurdles. Pregnancy loss, miscarriage, stillbirth, and child loss are the stories that make warriors of the women and parents who overcome these losses, and Red Nose Australia is there at the heart of this support network.
We recently spoke with Red Nose Parent volunteer, Edwina Symonds, about how the work she does with Red Nose is a legacy to her firstborn son, Sebby, who died when he was just ten months old.
Edwina shares more about Sebby on her website which she says she started to not only, ‘debrief’ on her loss, but also to share with others the ways to support grieving friends and family.
“When offering condolence, people often can get it wrong. Particularly when a child dies - it's such a tragic thing for people to comprehend. So often they do nothing, or centre the loss around themselves, and how it affects them, rather than altering their language to protect the grieving parents”.
Edwina says that the stories she hears on the volunteer line can vary from those who are presently suffering a miscarriage; are learning to lead a life after stillbirth or still digesting multiple losses many years later.
“People will often ask me if answering these phone calls is triggering for me, but I often find them healing. I wouldn’t be in a position to listen to other people’s stories if I hadn’t suffered such a terrible loss in my own life. Anytime where I can offer wisdom or knowledge to another grieving parent, is an honour. This is Seb’s legacy, not mine.”
Edwina recommends that finding a charity that is close to your heart is integral to the partnership between a volunteer and also the organisation.
“The time I spend every fortnight volunteering is not a chore to me, I look forward to it. There is also a lovely community of volunteers (we have a Facebook group and can communicate via the digital phone app that we use) who are like-minded and equally passionate about supporting the parents who call us in need of a good cry or vent.
“That is truly what is so special about the experience. The ‘child-loss’ club is one that no one ever wants to join, it’s a bloody awful club. But when you gain memberships it opens doors to a supportive community that others have no clue even exists - it’s a beautiful beast”.
We asked Edwina what she thinks the most special thing she can offer to those parent’s who call the line is.
“I think it’s an energy shift that is usually quite evident from the start of a call to the end. I do an overnight shift, so sometimes people are calling at midnight or 3am after a sleepless few hours. We aren’t there to “help”. In death, grief and loss, we can’t “help”. Nothing will bring your baby back.
“But at that moment, I can listen. I can virtually hold their hand. I can offer a small window where ugly crying is completely respectable, where swearing and letting off steam about a situation is acceptable.”
The Red Nose service is anonymous for callers unless the volunteers feel there may be any danger involved. For government funding purposes, the volunteers request to know what state the callers are from but otherwise are not required to identify themselves any further.
“There is great power in anonymity. In that moment, that phone is maybe the only safe space they have been in all day. So when I get a laugh or a relaxed sigh toward the end of a call, I feel like I have allowed them one moment to feel like they may make it through until tomorrow to start all over again. Grief is a slow, slow process, so one moment at a time is all anyone needs.”
The Red Nose Grief and Loss line is a 24/7 support service for Grieving Parents 1300 308 307
Edwina recently spoke to The Glimmer Podcast about her work with Red Nose, listen here.