Last updated: March 2023
For many of us, talking about our mental health is difficult, but for Andy Kennedy, it was vital for him to talk about his feelings as he navigated through the muddling labyrinth that is bereavement.
Andy’s wife, Tanya, bravely battled cancer for over a decade and was referred to St Margaret’s for support in 2017 after she was given the devastating news that her cancer was incurable, and she had just a few years left to live.
The couple had experienced many great life adventures together and decided they wanted to continue making memories, and enjoy the time they had left together. Having psychological support during this time was vital for Andy and Tanya, and St Margaret’s Bereavement Team was there to support them every step of the way.
“St Margaret’s was incredible for me and Tanya, they really supported us with our mental health as well as helping Tanya with her physical symptoms,” Andy said. “I don’t know what we would have done without them.
“When Tanya got her prognosis, I was surprised to learn that you start grieving almost immediately as you know what the end result is going to be,” Andy said. “I knew Tanya wasn’t going to get better and that’s when I started talking to one of the hospice’s counsellors, Kacey.
“Kacey was a massive support to me both before and after Tanya died. We had calls together regularly and occasionally met in the lodge at the Taunton hospice for sessions. It was great to have someone who I could just talk to about anything I was feeling with no judgement, and she helped me to grieve for Tanya.
“Tanya lived for three years after her prognosis, and she died peacefully in the hospice’s In-patient Unit in August 2020. I was devastated. Her not being there anymore didn’t really hit home until a few weeks after the funeral.
“To help me through my bereavement, Kacey suggested I keep a diary every day for a year to log my feelings in to help me to channel and understand the pain I was feeling. I started it around the time of the funeral and after the year was up, I stopped, closed it and put it in a drawer. It helped me massively. I haven’t looked at it since but at the time it was cathartic and helped me to process my grief in a healthy way.
“I felt lost after Tanya died, we did everything together. I could go for days without speaking to someone apart from the staff at my local shop or the landlord of my favourite pub.
“The counsellors at St Margaret’s helped me to come to terms with the fact that Tanya had died and what she died of, which at the start seemed like something I would never get over. I found it hard to talk about Tanya in the past tense. There were lots of tears, but the counsellors were very empathetic. They listened to me and guided me through my bereavement with kindness and compassion.
“I’ve had over 20 counselling sessions with the Bereavement Team over the last two years, and it has helped me enormously. It’s kept me buoyant and helped me to function in what was one of the most difficult times in my life. Grief hits you in waves. I can be doing anything from walking around town to having a drink with my friends and realise I am alone. Tanya and I knew each other for 40 years and were married for 30 of those, we were teenage sweethearts. I spent my whole adult life with her so to have that taken away it’s very difficult.
“Everyone always knew us as Andy and Tanya and I didn’t really know who I was after she died, but now I am finding my own identity. St Margaret’s has helped me to be where I am today.
“Everyone who works at St Margaret’s from the counsellors who supported me to the nurses who helped Tanya on the In-patient Unit are incredible. Hospice care touches everybody in some way and St Margaret’s with their amazing team of people supporting everyone across Somerset.
“I’m really excited about getting involved in The Big Somerset Cricket Bash as I love cricket! For the last nine years I’ve popped down to my local pub which is just a stone’s throw away from the cricket ground and enjoyed lunch and drinks with my friends, and then we’ll go and watch the cricket together. They all knew Tanya and I hope they’ll come along and get involved.
"I know from experience that it can be difficult for men to open up. Men don’t talk enough about their feelings but it’s really important that they do. Talking about your mental health can help to take a weight off your chest and help you become closer with your friends and family."