The grief counselling service is available at the Wits Centre for Palliative Care.  

The Wits Centre for Palliative Care has reintroduced face-to-face healing services for people grieving the loss of a loved one. The second service of the year took place on Saturday, March 27, 2021, at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg The services were halted in early 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions but resumed as the country moved to level 1, permitting the safe gathering of more people indoors. 

Nonkosi Mteto (40)a social auxiliary worker (assistant to a social worker), and Boitumelo Mokoena (53)a spiritual counsellor, introduced the service to the Wits Centre for Palliative Care in 2009, and are responsible for leading it. The services bring together family members and loved ones of former patients who have since passed on. For Mteto and Mokoena, both of whom are  trained in grief counselling, these family members and loved ones also become their patients through the counselling service.   

“It started with one of our patients who lost a child,” Mteto told the Wits Vuvuzela, when asked how the idea of a healing service came to be. “[former patient] always said, ‘I’m not coping. Maybe if you can arrange [a group of] other mothers who have experienced the same thing that I have experienced’.”  This idea led to Mteto and Mokoena forming a support group, which later incorporated religious elements, such as praying and singing. “We began to recognise that this is working. Now we [have] to continue, said Mteto 

A memory tree depicting the names of loved ones who have passed away, as displayed at the healing service held on Saturday, March 27 at the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto. Photo: Tshiamo Moloko

The services provide an alternative form of grief counselling. Mteto and Mokoena decided on calling these sessions healing services as their intention is that the participants walk away from the service having been healed. Aspects of the service involve people in mourning to writing out their loved one’s name in remembrance and the sharing of stories of trauma among a group of people who are strangers to one another. 

The services give participants a more informal space to grieve, something that Mokoena believes a counselling psychologist cannot provide. “Our patients want someone who will allow them to talk,” Mokoena says. She believes that one of the most important aspects about their healing services is to give people the opportunity to let out their emotions, without the fear of time running out.  

After each service, Mteto and Mokoena follow up with participants tassess how they are copingMteto says that this is when people usually ask for a one-on-one session, to talk about the pain that they are experiencing. If they notice a person is still experiencing complicated grief, they are invited to the next healing service, “until we feel that [they] are better, because we know that grieving is a process,” according to Mteto.  

According to Mteto, many people have an improved outlook on life after attending a service. Mteto says that many people can move on with their grief because of it, which is their goalEunice*, a participant in Saturday’s healing service, is a strong supporter of the sessions. “It makes a big difference,” she told Wits Vuvuzela, “I feel like a weight is lifted.” 

Sister Kay Myeni, a registered nurse and senior staff member at Wits Centre for Palliative Caresays that healing services are “100% beneficial”, to the patients. Myeni believes patients feel more comfortable with other participants around and the services help them to achieve a sense of closure.   When asked what she hopes people will take away from the healing services, Mokoena told Wits VuvuzelaIf we can see people being healed, going through their grieving stages, and being okay at the end.”  

*Surname withheld to protect the identity of the interviewee.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Nonkosi Mteto (left), and Boitumelo Mokoena (right), who introduced the grief counselling service to the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in 2009. Photo: Tshiamo Moloko