Charity highlights impact that the senses can have on grief after losing a loved one

It took until the final days of his life for Luke Hayton-Sollitt’s father James to start to come to terms with the sad reality that faced him.

"He had this ideology that he’s going to try and beat it,” reflects 33-year-old Luke of his dad’s prostate cancer diagnosis. “That’s our family philosophy.

"I had to stick by him with that, even though I knew what was going to happen. It was an emotional rollercoaster. He had good days, and bad days, and when he had bad days I had to be there for him and my mum. It took until the last days of his life for my dad to really accept it.”

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James was cared for at Sue Ryder’s Wheatfield Hospice in Leeds. The national bereavement charity has recently launched its A Sense of Grief campaign, a drive to highlight the profound impact that senses can have on the grieving process.

Luke Hayton-Sollitt., whose father, James, was cared for at Sue Ryder’s Wheatfield Hospice.Luke Hayton-Sollitt., whose father, James, was cared for at Sue Ryder’s Wheatfield Hospice.
Luke Hayton-Sollitt., whose father, James, was cared for at Sue Ryder’s Wheatfield Hospice.

The campaign encourages a deeper understanding of how touch, sight, sound, smell and taste can trigger emotions around someone’s grief.

New research from the organisation found that 91 per cent of people agreed that sensory triggers reminded them of someone they have grieved or are grieving. Most people said they experienced moments like this multiple times per week. For one in five people, it's every day.

The charity said the triggers that evoked the strongest emotions in people were seeing an old photograph of a loved one, hearing their favourite song, the smell of perfume or aftershave, seeing a place they visited together, and touching an item of their clothing.

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Heidi Travis, chief executive at Sue Ryder, says the campaign highlights that those who are grieving can be impacted daily by many emotions and memories.

“This campaign aims to create a space for people to explore these sensory triggers and understand their impact – not only for those grieving, but for people who would like to support their friends and family who are grieving.

“Almost 90 per cent of people tell us that they feel alone in their grief, and friends and family of those grieving tell us they just don’t know what to say or do.

"We believe that this is the perfect storm and leaves many grieving people feeling isolated. By talking about these common trigger moments, we want to help start conversations around grief.

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"Try asking your friend or loved one, ‘What reminds you most of your Mum?’ for example. Most people tell us they want to talk about the person who has died, so invite them to and then spend as much time as you can simply listening.”

Luke says he is slowly finding ways of releasing his emotions and has found that listening to songs can help remind him of the love, guidance and support of his father.

As for the campaign, “if at least one person can take some calm away with them and know they are not alone in their grief and the never-ending journey of missing a loved one, it’s a start,” he says.

“Grief never truly ends...grief never heals, we just battle to cope with the loss of a loved one.”

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