Our National Health Stories – ‘The Unexpected Comfort Blanket’


Our National Health Stories – ‘The Unexpected Comfort Blanket’

As part of the Our National Health Stories Live event held last week, a handful of our colleagues at Somerset FT read reflective poems, expressing what it means to them to work in the NHS.

With the support of our Art For Life team, their performances were live streamed last Thursday accompanied by poetry, music, dance, and visual arts from 18 other trusts in celebration of NHS 75.

Two of our readers were senior bereavement and medical examiner officer, Emma Thornhill, and bereavement and medical examiner officer, Shakira Thompson, reading ‘The Unexpected Comfort Blanket’.

The poem, which you can read below, was brought to life during a 'poetry machine' event in July, as part of the NHS 75 celebrations. The pair saw this as an opportunity to shine a light on what they do - a role which they feel many might not fully understand.

Emma explained: “There's a lot of law involved in a death, but there's also a lot of emotion for families. Many think our role is only about the paperwork, so we felt it was important to get our perspective of bereavement across, because it's so much more than that.

“People who have just been bereaved have to go on an awful administrative journey of ensuring they register the death, meet legal deadlines, think about instructing funeral directors, and so much more. It's quite a frightening task, especially if you've never done it before, or if it was an unexpected or young person’s death. We are a holding-hand for families throughout every stage of the process, both practically and emotionally.

“Bereavement, death, and dying can be such a taboo subject. Because of that, many don’t understand the value of what we do, and that’s why writing this poem was so important.”

As Shakira and Emma sat with poet Beth Calverley, they decided to move their focus away from being about the job itself, but more about the people and the environment that they create for families, and for colleagues.

Shakira said: “I realised really quickly after joining this role, that the environment in which we work is crucial to the wellbeing and mental health of the team. For this reason, I have always loved the escapism of the Art for Life projects around the hospital, and remember thinking what value they add when you are visiting here."

In the two years since Shakira joined the team, she has created a wonderful environment by introducing diffusers and oils and Himalayan salt lamps in the office. Knowing she could do more, Shakira was keen to get involved with the wellbeing champion scheme, and underwent the training which opened her eyes to all the wonderful projects available at the trust.

One which particularly resonated with her was the poetry machine. “One of the reasons I started this job was the loss of close friends and colleagues," Shakira continued. "This quote by Leo Tolstoy really helps me explain, a bit of a mantra in my life:

‘When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to her who suffers, and try to help her’.

“It felt so important to let people know what we did and why, to explain the spark that drives us to help people at their darkest moments, and lead them to the people who will guide them next. It’s a vital role for those bereft families who have no idea where to turn. We deal with so many elements, and the poem really helps explain this.”

Should you wish to watch our readers in action, you can watch the video below.


The Unexpected Comfort Blanket

Created with the bereavement team

Everything from the logistics-

registering death, the next steps –

to the pair of hearts, the last gift.


One in the hand of the loved one,

the other in the hand

of the person who’s bereaved.


It might only be a moment in time

but it’s a moment in their time of grief.

Someone saying:

“that wasn’t as bad as I expected.”


A salt lamp. An oil diffuser –

geranium, clary sage, orange.

An arm around each person.


The unexpected comfort blanket.

Holding their hand

to walk them

to a better place.