It was 15 years ago now, but it feels as if it were yesterday. I was a minister – an Anglican Canon for mission – when my husband, Simon, died suddenly from a heart attack, and my life fell apart. Even though I had conducted funerals and supported many people through such times, I had no idea until I was bereaved myself, how much death can impact and how little is known or addressed when it comes to grief.

Bereavement is one of the most stressful times of life, affecting everyone sooner or later and potentially impacting every part of someone’s life. Loss needs to be processed, and grief is a journey of adjusting to a new existence, which takes time, and understanding and support is needed in many ways. 

At first, most of us are shocked or emotionally numb; we run on adrenaline and we’re in survival mode. At the funeral others can think we’re doing well, and we can too. But it’s after, when the real sadness tends to hit, when the future must be faced, and support can teeter off. 

Many of us experience a rollercoaster of emotions and reactions we don’t recognise as us or don’t associate with grief. There are the physical reactions, for instance; I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I was cold, and I shook for months. I had a heavy weight’ in my gut and was taken to hospital three times with suspected heart problems (our bodies are so in tune with our emotions). 


Then there are the psychological reactions: we can’t concentrate or remember, or function to do the most basic of tasks, yet we can be faced with a mountain of practical, financial and legal matters to deal with. And we can experience fear, anger and guilt. I kept thinking I was seeing Simon and had psychosis which made me feel separated from the world. Grief can make us think we’re having a mental health crisis.

For me, life went into free-fall; I went from very happy to wanting to end it all in just six months. However, thanks to friends telling me about The Bereavement Journey’ programme run by Holy Trinity Brompton and Care for the Family’s Widowed Young Support’, my situation was turned around. But that spawned a determination in me to address our death-denying’ culture and see churches become places of healing and hope. 

"For me, life went into free-fall; I went from very happy to wanting to end it all in just six months."

In 2016, Ataloss was birthed – a charity focused on helping bereaved people find support and wellbeing, in particular providing signposting and training, and equipping churches to offer bereavement support for their communities. Over the years, our small team has worked hard to gather information on local support initiatives to direct to, as well as the national specialists, so that anyone faced with grief can immediately find help that’s right for them, as well as a wide range of options. 

Our signposting became increasingly invaluable during the pandemic, and we’ve won two awards this year for providing the best bereavement information and signposting service. Organisations nationwide are increasingly grateful to have a reliable place they can direct bereaved people to for information and support, realising that their own information can become quickly out of date and the same well-known services are often oversubscribed.

Most excitingly, The Bereavement Journey’ is taking off through churches. At the start of the pandemic, we put this programme of films and peer group discussions online, and it was so successful we began offering it widely across the UK. Feedback was extraordinary, with participants saying things like it really helped me to face things I was not facing”, I can see the light now, the pain is not as bad”, and it would have cost hundreds of pounds in therapy to get where I am”. Programme leaders similarly reported it was transforming people’s lives”, unlocking things inside” and giving people hope”.

In October last year, the UK Commission on Bereavement called for all sectors to work together to address under-capacity in bereavement support across the nation, highlighting the need for signposting and, interestingly, the importance of faith communities in providing support. 80 – 100% of The Bereavement Journey’ participants now attend from outside church, through GP referrals, social prescribers and funeral directors.

"giving people hope"

Churches are encouragingly beginning to report that the majority of people choose to attend the optional session on faith, including Hindus and Muslims, have continued to explore Christian faith and attend church. This is not surprising given that the Church of England during the pandemic reported that 90% of the public are open to churches helping them with grief, and the Talking Jesus research 2022, by Alpha, the Evangelical Alliance, HOPE Together, Kingsgate Community Church and Luis Palau Association, showed that the biggest influencer in people coming to faith is a life event’.

After decades of grief being taboo, the landscape is changing, and churches are leading the way in signposting nationally to timely bereavement support and increasingly reaching out in compassion to people who have been bereaved. However, we have a long way to go. We are still a nation which tries to dismiss death, and the relationship between unsupported grief leading to a range of societal problems – not least mental ill-health – is not being recognised.

Most referrals to our signposting are from mental health services with issues being linked to grief. Prison chaplains are also contacting us saying The Bereavement Journey’ is just what is needed. One prison chaplain recently said inmates are facing their losses for the first time” and that most take up the opportunity to explore faith for the first time in their lives”.

Isaiah 53:3 describes Jesus as a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” and James 1:27 says authentic religion is looking after orphans and widows in their distress”.

It is so encouraging to see that after years of the church being deemed irrelevant in a post-Christian world, we are leading the way and filling a void when it comes to providing support for the bereaved.