What It's Like To Be An EveryStep Bereavement Counselor: Maurice Dyer

Maurice Dyer started a new chapter of his career nearly three years ago when he joined EveryStep Grief & Loss Services as a bereavement counselor with the organization’s Knoxville hospice team. 

Dyer came to the position with a background in professional fundraising – not the typical career path for a bereavement counselor. 

"I was in the midst of figuring out what to do," Dyer says of being between jobs before joining EveryStep. "One of [EveryStep’s] patients and her husband got in a conversation with a nurse. The nurse had said in an off-hand manner that the organization was looking for a bereavement counselor in Knoxville. They referred me, and I'm happy to say I've been the bereavement counselor ever since." 

Dyer had plenty of other qualities that fit the job perfectly: a kind demeanor, ability to listen and empathy for all.

"When you're in fundraising, you're working with people from all ends of the spectrum financially," Dyer notes. "What this job does is working with people from all ends of the spectrum in socioeconomic and spiritual background. That's one of the things I find fascinating about the job."

While those Dyer works with may differ in every way, they all have one common denominator; they've lost a loved one.

Despite the differences, Dyer says he's learned there's always one thing he can do for those he supports, and that's to simply listen.

"One of the things about being a bereavement counselor is being present," he says. "One of the greatest gifts we can give others is our presence. What that says is that we are making a commitment, a commitment to that person or persons. By being there, we're validating them as a human being, letting them know they are worth something."

By listening, Dyer says he's been able to refer families to other resources, offer commentary on what they are experiencing or simply saying nothing, but being a sounding board.

Whether he's sending letters to families after the death of a loved one, scheduling meetings with families, arranging memorial gatherings or conducting support groups, Dyer is being present for those around him.

"What that does is it tells them that they are important, and someone cares for them and their situation they are experiencing," he notes.

That's a quality Dyer says he sees in all of EveryStep. In fact, it's one of the first things he learned about the organization. 

Shortly after starting in the Knoxville office, Dyer attended a team meeting, where the hospice team was trying to determine the best way to serve a family experiencing significant inner conflict and tension.

The team director spoke up, suggesting that the situation called for someone on the team who had expertise at end-of-life to go in and be a calm presence in the midst of turmoil.

 "I realized that this is an organization that I could get behind and be part of because of that commitment and dedication to the welfare of our patients," Dyer recalls thinking.

That goes for the welfare of their loved ones, as well. Dyer recalls sitting in a support group with family members who had lost their loved ones and realizing how EveryStep's support was making a difference in their lives, no matter their circumstances or beliefs.

"What has happened to me personally, is if we listen to people, if we're present for people, if we hear what they say, then we have an opportunity to be able to be responsive in many forms," Dyer says.

"What happens when that takes place, is we've had people say 'thank you so much for that call, to taking the time to listen to me,'" he says.

Dyer says he makes every effort not to cut someone off when in a grief support situation. He wants to allow them to speak their piece.

"I'm not a therapist, but in that situation, it's just being genuine and being honest that makes a difference, and people recognize that," he notes. "If we're honest and sincere in how we talk, people recognize that."

Being part of an organization offering a number of programs, including being attached to the hospice office in Knoxville, has helped Dyer along in his work.

"I think one of the the things people have a tendency to forget or not realize is how helpful hospice can be," he says. "I see that with the people we have for a few days or five hours,” says Dyer, noting that families who have only been touched by hospice care for a short time may be more hesitant to participate in EveryStep’s bereavement services. “They haven't had time to learn about the caliber of care we offer and the understanding and compassion we have." 

In the end, Dyer wouldn't want to be doing anything else in this chapter of his career.

"When I say I'm a bereavement counselor, the conversation changes immediately," he notes. "What I think is most gratifying is the awareness that we are human beings, that we have feelings and we want to be validated as human beings. In hospice, despite that end of life might be near, these people are still important and they're worthy of someone's presence."