Volunteers' Week Blog: Angie

Bereavement Counsellor, Angie Toppan, talks about the path that brought her to Cruse Scotland.

June 02, 2023

More than 230 compassionate, committed and experienced volunteers form the beating heart of Cruse Scotland and we want to celebrate and share the difference they make to bereaved children, young people and adults across the country.

This Volunteers' Week we're excited to shine a light on the various roles of our incredible volunteers and the difference they make each and every day - from their point of view.


When asked what led me to Cruse Scotland’s door, a chain of circumstances spring to mind. My Mum was a hospice volunteer for several years and spoke with us about people who were at the end of their lives and their loved ones, who often found it difficult to talk to each other about dying and bereavement and all the feelings and thoughts around these important life topics. Travelling to different parts of the world and teaching students from around the globe provided opportunities to observe and learn about different approaches to these topics and to be curious about my own and others’ individual experiences of death and loss.

Six years ago my husband and I bid farewell to our lives in an international school community in rural Norway and moved – temporarily, we thought – to Edinburgh. With a career in teaching behind me, a fresh canvas awaited, with no plan, no commitments. We quickly decided to settle for a while as I became involved with Health in Mind, a mental health charity, volunteering as a befriender and facilitator of peer support groups and taking advantage of courses that were available to volunteers. This gave me a foundational education in mental health that I had long been hungering for.

Some of the people I was matched with as a befriender were struggling in the aftermath of a bereavement.  They wanted to talk about many aspects of their losses, and I realised that I felt comfortable listening to their accounts and feelings, able to stay with them as they unpacked stories they were burning to share. This echoed experiences I had as a volunteer with a texting crisis service, where texters sometimes explained that they had nobody to talk to about the loss of a loved one; there was a sense that their grieving time was up, that others could only tolerate only so much and they, the person grieving, felt expected to move on and “get over it”. They seemed relieved to be asked about this experience that had had such a profound, lasting impact on them, pouring out details of their pain and complicated emotions and thoughts, as well as how they had coped and what was still unmanageable or unimaginable.

I had many inspiring, engaging teachers those first years in Edinburgh, and among the most powerful were those I was supposed to be supporting. This continues to be the case as I spend time with people through Cruse. Along the way, a course in counselling skills at Edinburgh College with focus on a person-centred approach invited and challenged me to reflect on my own experiences, pointing out where my internal landscape needed tending. Two years of studying for a diploma in counselling and groupwork introduced further extended me in new directions through assignment and practical experience. Suddenly – or so it seemed - I was a qualified therapist / counsellor.

“What now?” I wondered. My dream had always been to volunteer. But where?

By this time, we were adjusting to life in a small rural town north of Edinburgh. Soon after we relocated, I was invited to attend a group of local people who got together every month or two and talked about matters related to death and dying, bereavement and grief. Intrigued, I went along and discovered an open and accepting space where different opinions were respected, time was offered to those who wanted or needed to share, and no topics were off the table. At one of these meetings I met someone who works for Cruse, and an enthusiastic conversation with them prompted me to submit a volunteer application.

Cruse Scotland has a strong team ethos, and I have felt welcomed and connected since my initial contact. As a volunteer counsellor, it’s very moving spending time with clients, offering them space to talk about their experiences of bereavement and how this has affected them. I am impressed and inspired over and over again by how resourceful people can be in the face of tremendous pain, difficult feelings and complicated, often distressing thoughts. Witnessing how they explore their own experience with courage and trust is often remarkable, and I come away from conversations with a sense of gratitude that we have been able to spend time together in this unique and special way.


Thank you to Angie, and of course to every single Cruse Scotland volunteer for your kindness, dedication and support to ensure no one need struggle with their grief alone. 

If you would like to be kept informed of all the latest volunteer recruitment opportunities, sign up to our monthly e-newsletter to keep in touch.

Volunteers' Week Blog: Angie