How Beverley Knight's mother provides comfort to the bereaved

After years providing a listening ear to the newly bereaved, there wasn't much that fazed Deloris Smith. But this was a difficult one.

Beverley Knight's mother Deloris Smith has been volunteering for Cruse Bereavement Care for 14 years
Beverley Knight's mother Deloris Smith has been volunteering for Cruse Bereavement Care for 14 years

"This lady had lost her husband, and she had an appointment with her doctor," she recalls. "She was hoping she had cancer and would die."

During the conversations that followed, the widow mentioned that before she was married, she used to enjoy painting. Deloris suggested she inquire about art classes at the local colleges.

"This lady came back a few weeks later, when the college broke up for the summer, and said 'I'm ever so happy to be alive', I'm so happy to be doing my art."

Few people will recognise Deloris as she sits in the sunshine outside the Co-op in Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, collecting money for bereavement charity Cruse. But the volunteer, who has spent 17 years providing support to the bereaved across Wolverhampton and Dudley, is the mother of world-famous songstress Beverley Knight, who has combined a hugely successful career as a soul singer with multiple appearances in West End musicals.

Beverley Knight on stage

Deloris first started volunteering for Cruse after retiring as a nurse in 2008.

"I worked as a nurse at the ophthalmic hospital in Wolverhampton, and I did a Btec in counselling to help people who were losing their eyesight," she says.

"I found it very rewarding. If people were losing their sight, they would think they can't read any more, but I would give them a magnifying glass and when you saw the expression on their faces, it made you feel you were helping them."

When Deloris retired, she wanted to continue using her skills to help others, and responded to an appeal in the Express & Star for volunteers at Cruse.

As well as providing face-to-face advice with people who have lost loved ones, Deloris has also raised thousands of pounds for the charity's vital work. Of course, having a famous daughter comes in handy when it comes to securing merchandise for raffles. A charity ball Deloris organised in 2019 raised £34,000.

"Bev is very supportive of what I do," says Deloris, who still lives in the Penn Fields home where her famous daughter grew up.

Deloris Smith and Monica Gregory raising funds for the Cruse Bereavement Support charity outside the Co-op in Tettenhall

Cruse, which has branches across the Black Country, Staffordshire and Shropshire, is now seeking more people like Deloris to help those struggling with the death of a loved one. It is looking not just for people who can offer a listening ear, but also those who can provide practical help with fundraising or administration.

For Deloris, it is seeing people come to terms with their grief and rebuilding their lives that make it all worthwhile.

"You need to listen to them, and what they have experienced, their feelings and what they are going through. When you have heard that you have something to work on."

Patience is extremely important. People are rarely at their best when they have lost a loved one, and sometimes the natural reaction is to lash out. Others find it difficult to talk, and sometimes it takes time before they are able to engage effectively.

"Sometimes, for the first 15 minutes, all they want to do is cry," says Deloris. "Sometimes it takes a second or third call before it's time to open up.

"There was one man who said if his wife got up to read the paper, he would follow her, they never did anything separately.

"He said 'Now she's not here, I don't know what to do'." Suggestions that he might take part in group activities or social events were rebuffed.

"Eventually he said he and his wife used to go to church, but he didn't bother after she died."

Deloris suggested he tried going back, and he now regularly attends, and even went away on a trip with fellow members.

Deloris Smith, right, with charity administrator Monica Gregory

Deloris, who is 74, had been with the charity for less than two years when she had to deal with grief of her own. In 2010 her husband of 42 years, Edward, died suddenly at the age of 71, just 10 weeks after being diagnosed with cancer of the spine.

"I didn't expect to be dealing with it myself so early in this position," she says. "He was still working, doing bits and pieces here and there."

Deloris believes her own heartbreak has made her a better counsellor though, as it has helped her understand the range of emotions that clients are going through.

"I do empathise with people, you try to imagine what they are going through," she says. "Sometimes I think 'that was me', you understand why they feel the way they do."

Cruse provides support over the telephone, by email or by video conferencing. It also provides face-to-face counselling, although that was temporarily suspended during the pandemic. The charity runs a telephone helpline manned by trained volunteers seven days a week, and offers a range of information and resources through its website, including an online grief chat facility. It also uses social media pages such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to support and inform people of the work.

The charity is looking for volunteers who can commit to three hours a week, and begins its training sessions via video conferencing in September. No experience is necessary.

Monica Gregory, of Cruse West Midlands, says: “The death of a loved one can be devastating. Cruse Bereavement Support is here to support people that are struggling to cope after a close bereavement.

“We are urgently looking for people who are compassionate and like helping other people to join our team of bereavement volunteers and fundraisers."

"Being a volunteer is incredibly rewarding and we could not do the vital work we do without them.”

Cruse offers a seven-day-a-week telephone helpline for people struggling to come to terms with bereavement on 0808 808 1677, and support is also available on the website

*To find out more about becoming a volunteer for Cruse contact Monica Gregory on 01902 420 055 or email

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