One conversation that is often held in my world when speaking with care workers who work in aged care settings is around what happens after a resident dies.

How organisations handle this can make a substantial difference to the emotional health of not just staff, other residents and residents’ loved ones, but also to the energy of the setting/facility.

Some of the conversations are truly horrifying at the lack of compassion that is exhibited by some workplaces. One lady said that when a resident asks about another resident who has died, the care workers are not allowed to talk about them.

What the?

First, it is widely accepted that for a healthy grieving experience, the death, the loss needs to be acknowledged.

Second, what does that say to the residents who remain? It says you were not important, that you did not matter and we will not remember you.

Third, it allows no place for care workers to address their grief – which can be a very real experience for them. Particularly where residents have no loved ones or whose loved ones can’t/don’t visit regularly, staff become the loved ones. How residents’ deaths are handled is integral to the resilience of care workers.

All of this contributes more widely to a culture that is not based in compassionate care. And isn’t that one of the purposes of aged care facilities? You can feel the energy of a facility when you walk in and even if you’re not consciously aware of it, your gut instinct knows.

It’s not hard to put into place practices which change this completely and support all involved to create a better after death and grieving experience.

Things like :

  • Have a candle or special light that is lit when a resident has died
  • Place a photo of the resident with this light or somewhere that signifies that they have died
  • Allow care workers to attend funerals/memorials (with the family’s permission)
  • Encourage care workers residents to share memories of the resident who died
  • Have a memorial service on a periodic basis to honour all the residents who have died in the previous period
  • If a care worker who has been close to a resident is on leave when that resident dies, ensure that the care worker is informed as soon and sensitively as possible
  • Create a photo memory board of residents who have died

None of this is rocket science. It’s simply about compassionately caring for one another, treating each respect and acknowledging that death is part of our world.

Peace & blessings, Sharon

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