FEATURE: Theo club in Sudbury aims to offer support through the hardest of times
After losing her husband, the companionship from a specialised support group proved a lifesaver for Eileen Gore.
Having been married for 25 years to husband Lesley, she was forced to adapt quickly to a change in lifestyle, while coping with the grief.
Becoming a widow or widower can leave an individual feeling isolated, as the person closest to them is no longer by their side.
After learning of Theo, a group in Sudbury providing support for people who have been bereaved, Eileen plucked up the courage to join the club.
“I had been a widow for 15 months before becoming a member – I was desperate to do something,” said the 82-year-old.
The bereavement often continues long after someone has gone, but this heartache is not always recognised among those who have not experienced such loss.
“Even if a partner has been very ill, and you know it’s going to happen; you think you have prepared for it, then the funeral comes along and, after a little while, people think you’re getting on with it,” says Eileen, from Sudbury.
“They can drift away – a lot of people in the club have had that experience.”
At club Theo, a poignant acronym which stands for To Help Each Other, there is a mutual understanding among the bereaved.
“A lot of members benefit from being with people in the same position,” says Eileen, who is the club chairman.
The reality of losing a loved-one and the impact it has on an individual can be overwhelming.
“Even though you prepare yourself, it’s far worse than you think it’s going to be – you’re just lost,” explains Eileen, who credits the club with providing comfort to its members.
“It’s a way out of the loneliness of sitting indoors and not knowing what to do.”
Joining the club was a big step for Eileen, who received support from the moment she stepped in the doors.
“I went along with terrible trepidation, but they made me feel so welcome,” she says. “It was such a welcoming atmosphere – it really was a lifesaver.”
The new experience can take a lot of courage for a person confronting their loss.
“I was going into the unknown – I was on my own,” says Eileen, who credits the comfort of a support network with enabling her to regain some of her independence.
“I didn’t know why I had left it 15 months because it’s clearly changed my life. I’ve been out a lot, I have gone on holiday – it’s given me a new aspect of life I didn’t expect when my husband died.”
The group meets twice a month at the Sudbury branch of The Salvation Army in Station Road, where it holds various activities, including games evenings, quizzes and film nights, as well as hosting speakers and various entertainment.
Members also socialise outside the sessions, meeting for a meal or accompanying one another on holiday.
A list of phone numbers is provided to each member, should they need to talk through their emotions or share their feelings.
“We support each other by being there for one another,” says Eileen.
For future members who may feel a sense of apprehension about joining, Eileen advises: “You have to go when you feel ready.”
Josephine Norman, from Sudbury, a former chairman at the club, has been a member for more than a decade.
She joined the group six months after her husband, Patrick, died.
“I often look back and can’t believe I have survived 15 years without my husband,” she says. “I attribute that to Theo, especially when I became chairman and organised things for the club – that makes you stronger.
“That’s why I have survived so long after my husband’s death.”
Being able to share her experience of bereavement has provided great comfort to Josephine.
“You want people around who will understand what you’re going through,” she says. “We have to have hope and you get that from the club.”
Sharing a mutual compassion for one’s emotions enables people to relate to each other’s circumstances.
“When you first lose your husband or wife, you need to talk about them and everybody there understands,” says Josephine.
After losing her husband, Josephine’s children were keen for her to live with one of them for a short period, but she made the choice to remain at home.
“I said no, I’m staying here in my house on my own – and I stayed – but I thought ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’”
Socialising and venturing out in public can seem daunting on your own, especially after years of sharing those experiences with a loved-one.
Josephine recalls attending the club’s quiz team for the first time at the Waggon and Horses in Sudbury.
She was met by the chairman at the door who accompanied her into the pub and brought her a drink.
The second time she attended, Josephine had to muster the courage to walk into the pub and order a drink herself, which proved a pivotal moment in her life.
“That gives you independence,” says the mother-of-three.
The benefits of the club environment can make a significant improvement.
Josephine has been astounded by the dramatic difference of two members, who appeared emotionless and withdrawn when they first joined, but have since regained a sense of purpose.
“They’re totally different people now – they’re in charge of their own lives again,” she says.
John Hayward joined the group three years ago after losing his wife, Susan, in 2015.
He highlighted the importance of members receiving support in the early stages of their grief.
“It can help people who are recently bereaved as it takes a long time to adapt, to change your lifestyle,” says the 70-year-old, from Little Waldingfield.
“Talking with someone who has gone through what you’re experiencing is very beneficial.”
John, who is currently the only male member, would like to see others join.
“I was looking for friends and, at the time, there were two other men at the club – one has since passed away and another one has left,” he says.
Before joining, John met a member who talked him through the support offered at the club.
Although it may feel daunting initially, meeting a member prior to attending the first session can help to break down barriers.
“It’s a lot to take in,” he says. “I didn’t know anybody, but, after that one-to-one, at least I knew one person.”
Joining the group proved a new experience for John.
“I was curious to go and see what was involved,” he says, adding that the support on offer enables members to regain structure in their personal lives.
“It helps to get your life on track again. It’s a terrible problem to deal with; no-one can imagine what it feels like until you have lost someone.”