THEY have come together like old friends: to chat, play games, try their hand at painting, have a relaxing massage, a manicure, go for a walk, or pop out for lunch.

Everywhere around the room, there are smiles, and yet they have come together because of a shared sadness. They have all lost a loved-one.

This is the 4 Get Me Knot group, which was launched as a monthly get-together at the Butterwick Hospice, in Stockton, last November.

“If it wasn’t for coming here, I don’t know how I’d have ended up,” says Anne Kilding, who was consumed with grief when her husband, John, died in the hospice in 2014.

They’d met when she was just 17 and both worked in Hill’s door-makers in Norton Road – she helped out in the joinery department, he sprayed the door frames. Married for 45 years, they had just retired when John was diagnosed with liver cancer.

Anne, from Thornaby, had counselling at the Butterwick and was invited to join the 4 Get Me Knots. “They can’t do enough for you here,” she says. “Everyone is in the same boat and I can’t tell you how much it helps to talk to people who know what it’s like.”

As Anne goes off for a therapeutic massage, Hazel Saunders, Head of Family Support at the Butterwick for the past 17 years, explains how 4 Get Me Knot began.

“There was a problem with people feeling isolated through grief and finding it difficult to socialise again,” says Hazel, pictured below with her team.

“It’s about giving them somewhere where they can share their story and regain the confidence to take the step back into the community.”

It started with a letter to those with connections to the Butterwick, and the response was immediate. Five months on, the group is open to anyone who is grieving and needs support. Today is a “Pamper Day” so it’s all women but men can come too. There is also a fortnightly group for bereaved children.

“If you listened outside the door when the children or the adults are meeting, you’d never guess what it’s all about because you’d hear lots of laughter,” says Hazel.

Indeed, in the art class across the room, volunteer teacher Alison Stafford has introduced a “laugh-an-hour policy”. “When people are grieving, they can forget how to laugh so we make art fun,” she says.

However, there’s also an understanding that it can take time. For Rosina Drummond, the pain of losing Bob, her husband of 48 years, is still very raw. He died of cancer within three weeks of diagnosis.

Originally from Inverness but now living at Wynyard, Rosina is a perfect example of why the group is needed. She doesn’t drive, public transport where she lives is limited, and she has no immediate family, so isolation was a crippling problem.

She came to 4 Get Me Knot because she knew Hazel as a counsellor and is able to get to the group by taxi: “I have huge respect for Hazel and it’s due to her that I’m here,” she says. “It gets me out of the house – I’d be in the home for the bewildered otherwise.”

Sarah Newton’s husband, Michael, died of prostate cancer at 51. He was given 10 years to live but survived just three months. They met after becoming pen-pals while he was serving with the Army in the Falklands, and she arranged to pick him up from Luton Airport when he came home.

“I was so nervous, I pressed the accelerator instead of the brake and nearly ran him over,” she giggles.

And laughter remains important now she’s a member of the 4 Get Me Knot group. “It’s about enjoying ourselves,” she says. “The world just seems a bit lighter.”

Sarah, who lives in Stockton, lays claim to coming up with the name for the group. When Ruby, her beloved boxer dog, died, the vet gave her some forget-me-knot seeds to plant in her pet’s memory.

“We wanted a name for the group and 4 Get Me Knot came from that,” she recalls. “It just fitted because we have to move on without forgetting the loved-ones we’ve lost.”

Sue Sands had been a family support volunteer at the Butterwick for 16 years but found herself “on the other side of the table” when husband, John, died of cancer in August 2017. John was a high-profile businessman, having been managing director of Camerons Brewery and chief executive of Pubmaster.

She describes losing him as “the hardest thing I’ve ever been through” but before he died, he told her: “I know you’ll be alright because you’ve got the club waiting to embrace you.”

He was right and Sue sums it up by saying: “You are with people who know exactly how you feel, and you don’t need to pretend.”

In Elaine Henderson’s case, the grief goes very deep indeed. Elaine, of Thornaby, lost her mum and dad to cancer and then it took her husband, Stan. It didn’t end there because her son, Mark, committed suicide in the depths of depression.

“When you first lose someone, people drop round, but then they fade away and you’re left on your own,” says Elaine. I felt I was having a breakdown – and perhaps I did – but coming here is a big part of healing.”

For Hazel Saunders, the satisfaction is in hearing the chatter and seeing the friendship around the room. “You are with people in the darkest time of their lives, but you know they’ll come through it and learn to smile again…that’s why we do it.”

  • To find out more about the 4 Get Me Knot group, call Butterwick Hospice reception on 01642 607742