Helping heal broken hearts
Jenny Andrews has sat with countless people as they have cried tears of loss; offering comfort and support in the face of often overwhelming grief.
At times she has simply stayed silent, knowing instinctively when to talk and when to keep quiet and simply be there.
Death has been part of Jenny Andrews' life for 15 years. Providing bereavement support at Geoffrey T Sowman Funeral Directors, the Blenheim councillor retired from the role at the end of September.
It was a role she felt privileged to hold and one that led to life-long friendships, she says.
Casting her mind back over the years, memories of families she has helped and those that died are still vivid. No-one has been forgotten.
For Andrews, the recollections are important.
"I think of grief as being like a puzzle that's been put together but a piece is missing.
"When you see a piece is missing the first thing you look for is that missing piece but eventually you will see the bigger picture," she says.
Andrews' experience with death began when she lost both her parents when she was in her 40s.
Over the years, she has realised there is "no right or wrong" way to grieve.
"People grieve differently, some for a long time and others not so long but if you've loved then grief is the price you pay," she says.
Sitting in the peaceful chapel at the funeral home, the wooden pews awash with pale sunlight, Andrews is quick to clarify that she was not a grief counsellor.
She had been offered the position by former funeral director and monumental mason Ken Rooney, who has since retired, who believed it was a service that was needed. He was right.
"I did not hesitate to say 'yes'. It was about offering extra care and support or even just company to those who needed it," Andrews says.
Her task has not been an easy one and at times she says it was overwhelming. The support of her family and friends was vital, as was finding ways to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
"While I couldn't talk to them about what had happened specifically, they were always there. I have a circle of very dear and close friends.
"I'm also a gardener and a keen reader. My grandchildren bring me a great deal of joy too," she says.
The decision to leave was not an easy one but the Blenheim councillor found she had less time available for the role. Between her council duties and as co-owner of an estate assets and downsizing company, Estate Busters 2013, time was tight.
While she may be leaving the role officially, Andrews says she will continue to be there for those who need her and the memories of those she has helped will be with her always.
"People deal with grief in individual ways and some don't need to grieve for long but for others, it's an ongoing journey.
"The loss of a child is the worst; it's a really painful and sharp grief," she says.
Andrews helped set up a parents' group and forged strong friendships with some. While the group itself no longer meets, the bonds formed there will last a lifetime.
"Parents were incredibly brave to come along but once there they felt safe in a confidential group of like parents and would share photos and stories along with their dreams for their sons or daughters.
"A parent is a parent no matter if their child is gone. They want to be able to talk about their children. It's a terrible loss but people do learn to live with it and their lives will become more normal, just a different kind of normal than before."
Andrews was key in helping organise the annual Candle Lighting services which were held in Kaikoura, Picton and Blenheim just before Christmas every year. It is a service that she holds very dear.
"Over the last 15 years, there are people who have come to every one, It's a place where people can cry openly and can stay as long as they need to. After all, tears are a liquid form of love.
"People tend to forget that once all the flowers have gone there is suddenly a big gap in their lives and suddenly it's an empty, lonely world.
"Just be there and do constructive things like take the dog for a walk or go shopping for groceries," she says.
It is clear the role has been much more than a job for Andrews. The people she has met, the grief she has shared and the love she has witnessed have been a real honour for her, she says.
"Grief is, after all, a normal part of living."
- The Marlborough Express