Rounding off Grief Awareness Week, Helen Slaymaker, best practice deputy at LifeSearch, speaks to Health & Protection about the incomprehensible pain of losing both parents-in-law to cancer, how the company’s benefits offering made each passing day a little bit easier and how she and her family are now on a mission to live life to the fullest.
“My first experience with bereavement was back in June 2022 when we lost my father-in-law to bowel cancer,” Slaymaker tells Health & Protection who says the following September she also lost her mother-in-law to leukaemia in September of this year.
“It had already been a very difficult 12 months, but following the loss of my mother-in-law it just felt like a massive hole in our families’ lives and it was at this point I realised I really was not okay,” Slaymaker says, adding the pain her family went through was incomprehensible.
Everything had changed
“Everything we once knew had suddenly changed,” Slaymaker goes on.
“My mother-in-law was the most kind hearted, wonderful lady and initially I found myself bursting into tears at little memories and just thinking about how different life was now. I was trying to stay strong for my husband and my children who were all suffering, feeling the loss of this amazing lady.
“I tried so hard to keep it together for my family but this was incredibly difficult.”
Thankfully Slaymaker could rely on her employer for support.
“LifeSearch were so supportive, my leader was in regular contact checking in and providing the relevant details for help and supporting my family and offering compassionate leave, which was much needed,” she says.
“I accessed our Listening Ears team who are trained to deal with employees going through a difficult time. I spoke to a lady who was so supportive and provided me with the help and advice I needed to support my mental health along with helping me process my feelings and everything that had happened.
“I also accessed a service through my employee assistance programme that provided help with regards to some legal areas specifically around IHT, obtaining probate and pension help.
“The lady I spoke with was incredibly helpful and answered all my questions. I was then able to relay this information to my husband and his sisters which really helped.”
But it was the Listening Ears team that proved the most helpful part of the service, Slaymaker maintains as it helped process her feelings.
“There were times I felt so lost and didn’t know what to do for the best. I had so many emotions flying around that I just couldn’t process what was happening,” Slaymaker continues.
“The Listening Ears team listened to me talk about what I was going through and provided guidance on how best to move forward. If I hadn’t had access to this service, I really don’t know how I would have coped.”
And the difference these services made proved crucial to Slaymaker as it made every day a little bit easier.
“Each day got a little easier, I was better equipped to manage my feelings which really helped me to be able to support my family with their feelings,” Slaymaker says.
“Having three young children who were really struggling to process such a huge loss and seeing the effects it had on me and my husband must have been very hard for them.
“However, once I received the help and support through the counselling service through LifeSearch, I was in a much better position to support them. I felt stronger and this really helped me, help them,” she added.
Reaching out with a card
“My CEO even reached out to me personally and wrote a beautiful handwritten card which was lovely and really gave me the strength to move forward in a much more positive way.
“Our People and Culture team also sent me a card with lovely words of support which made me feel valued and this was such a blessing.”
Without the company benefits Slaymaker fears she would not have coped.
“I probably would have ended up taking even more time off work and really struggled through,” she points out.
“The level of compassion and support I received from LifeSearch was invaluable.
“I felt empowered by their support and guidance and it really did give me the strength to deal with the loss of my mother-in-law and support my family through such a difficult time.”
Easy to turn a blind eye
Reflecting on lessons learned from her experience, Slaymaker maintains it is easy to turn a blind eye and try and carry on through life without processing those emotions and dealing with the situation head on.
“However, this is not the best way to deal with grief,” she adds. “It’s important to access everything that is available to you because without facing those difficult situations and having those hard conversations, you aren’t dealing with what’s happened.
“It’s okay not to be ok and using those services that are available to you really help give you the strength to move forward.
“I now know that should I be in this situation again, I will always reach out for help and not try and deal with it on my own.”
Not putting a price on protecting the ones you love
And ultimately her experience has also underlined the importance of cover.
“We insure our phones, our pets, our home but why would we not insure ourselves?” Slaymaker maintains.
“We are the most important part of any family. When you experience loss, it definitely makes you think about your future and your family and making sure they are okay, if you are not okay.
“Protecting those you love the most is so important, you cannot put a price on that.”
Making lots of happy memories
And as she looks back on these most challenging times, Slaymaker reveals she realises how far her and her family have come.
“While we will never forget my beautiful mother-in-law and father-in-law, we as a family will go on to live our lives to the fullest, enjoying every precious second together and making lots of happy memories,” she concludes.
“If this situation has taught me anything, it’s that life is short, it’s so important to make it the best it can be.”