Losing a life partner through death is, without a doubt, one of the most distressing events that people will ever have to face. Russell Hill explains how Solace – a self-help group that is new to Port Macquarie can provide support and friendship to individuals to people in this situation …
What brought you to the Port Macquarie-Hastings area originally, Russell – and how long have you lived here?
I lost my wife, Joyce, to breast cancer in March 2005, in Canberra where we had lived since 1972. I subsequently remarried in 2006. Having visited Port Macquarie a number of times over the years I was familiar with the area, and Caryn and I simply decided to move to fresh fields and a warmer climate. We made the move in November 2007.
What, or who, is Solace?
Solace is a self-help group for people who have lost their life’s partner through death. It was started in South Australia in 1983 by Jean Almond, a recently-widowed woman who remains patron of the organisation. She has been awarded an O.A.M. for her work with widowed people.
There are now approximately 20 groups, with representation in most states and territories, including some regional areas. Solace helps people to normalise the grief process, but is not a counselling service, nor is it a match-making service. Facilitators are trained to lead the groups, but are just that – facilitators. Where professional help is needed, referral can be made to grief counsellors or other relevant specialists. Solace is not a religious organisation.
As an organisation, what are Solace’s main aims?
Solace provides support for people who are hurting over the loss of a partner. This is done in a friendly, confidential setting. Solace aims to provide a warm, caring environment where people are accepted and encouraged to be themselves. Social events help foster and renew a sense of ‘joie de vivre’ that is often lost in the maelstrom of grief and desolation that can follow the death of a loved one.
Solace does not attempt to be all things to all people, and members are not discouraged from engaging in other pursuits, or finding support in other ways. Experiences they bring into the group can often be very helpful and encouraging for others.
How did you first find out about the organisation, and what has been your own personal experience with the group?
I was referred to the northern Canberra group by the Funeral Director who buried Joyce. I approached the group with some trepidation, but I was immediately set at ease by their openness and the way they welcomed me into their fold. I remain in touch with the leader of that Canberra group, who has sent me some valuable resource material to use up here. At the time I was fortunate to have a strong support group of friends and family around me, but other people’s lives return to normal, and eventually you are left alone with your loss. That is where Solace can be invaluable.
With all the emotional trauma and perhaps even the financial and logistical issues associated with losing your life partner, what do you believe is the most difficult thing for people to cope with?
Undoubtedly loss of the sense of companionship and sharing that a quality partnership provides. You find some of your married friends seem to drift away, and when you visit other homes you now have to hold up one end of the conversation by yourself. You don’t have that special person to bounce off ideas, thoughts and perspectives. In short, you are alone and can soon become very lonely in a crowd. Many will say that weekends are the worst time of the week.
What made you decide to bring Solace to Port Macquarie?
A tragic run of premature deaths of local friends led to 4 funerals in a 6-month period last year, in each case leaving a widow. I contacted Solace in Sydney to enquire what support from Solace NSW was available up here and was advised that there was nothing north of Gosford. “So what can be done about it?” I naively asked. “Well, you would be an ideal person to start a group up there” was the answer, and things have snowballed from there.
What’s the criteria for people interested in joining the group ?
One very simple but strict criterion: the death of your life’s partner. No-one else is eligible to join.
What have been some of the positive outcomes you’ve witnessed for people who’ve attended Solace meetings?
Last year, as part of my preparation for this new Port Macquarie group, I visited a large Solace group in Sydney, and I met some people for whom Solace is their life blood. They literally hang out for the next meeting. Whether attending a regular group meeting such as that, or meeting with trainee facilitators, I have seen that many of these people have found a lifeline – and new purpose in life. I have seen first hand and experienced the friendship and trust that can result among people who have a common bond.
At a recent restaurant outing in Sydney, there was so much laughter and camaderie being expressed that a woman, leading her husband, came over to enquire who the group was and how they could join. The answer was given with a twinkle: “Well, you will have to dispose of him first (indicating the husband).”
Where and when do you plan to hold the first meeting?
The standard Solace format is for 2 meetings per month, and I have settled on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays, at a time and place to be advised when people contact me. The inaugural meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 26 June, and I am hoping to have some Solace NSW people here to help celebrate the occasion.
Interview by Jo Atkins.
Inset photo shows the NSW 2011/2012 Executive Committee for Solace.
This story was published in issue 79 Greater Port Macquarie Focus