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How do we say farewell when residents pass away?
I have just been reading a chain of Facebook messages about great ways to celebrate a life and say farewell when a care home resident dies.
It reminded me of my first experience of a resident's death when I was working in a care home as an Activity Coordinator many years ago. I'd been in the job for a couple of months when a carer passed me in the corridor and said Mary (name changed) had just died. I was not surprised as she had been very poorly for a week.
Mary had been a regular attendee at the Sherry Parties I had started and had a close-knit group of friends that she sat with in the dining room. I popped into the office to talk to the Deputy Matron about how and when we would share the news with her friends. I was very firmly told that it was confidential information and we had no right to share it. I was really perplexed by this as it didn't seem right that she just vanished.
In discussions with the Matron/ Manager later that day I gathered that this was customary practice throughout the company. She agreed with me though that Mary's friends should be told and be given an opportunity to grieve for their friend. This set in chain a new practice of gently and discreetly sharing news of a death. With the families permission, we would set up a tea party on the day of the funeral and offer an opportunity for residents to share stories, often pouring over photos I produced of recent gatherings. This seemed to be a far more appropriate and compassionate way of doing things.
I am delighted that in these more enlightened times things have changed. On a visit to a care home last year I joined a 'Guard of Honour' of staff and residents who had gathered to observe the departure of a resident. The tradition in this home was for the undertakers to stop at the home en route to the Burial Service to allow everyone that wanted to to pay their respects.
The lovely stories on Facebook recount how, in many places now, the body of a resident is not secretly taken out by the backdoor but escorted through the home with great dignity. Staff and residents assemble to pay their respects and have an opportunity to say goodbye. I think this properly acknowledges the relationships that develop in care settings. Not only between residents but with the staff who grow very fond of the people they support every day. It helps that we have a greater awareness now of the importance of planning for end-of-life care. This should include knowing individual wishes, in some detail, of how others can celebrate their departure.
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