Loved, and Lost

Coronavirus has been devastating for many care homes, and you and your residents may well be coping with considerable loss. It is a sad and challenging time. Robyn Taylor provides some suggestions and guidance for coping with loss in a care home…

We really hope that your care homes have managed to stay safe during the coronavirus outbreak, but for those homes who have loved and lost, it can be very hard. This article is not just about the pandemic, but more so about general grief in a care home, but it is likely that it will resonate now, more than ever.

As a care team, you bond with the residents in a way that can only be explained as like having additional grandparents in the family. So, it is important that you and your staff are given the space and time to work through your own grief. Working during this pandemic does take an emotional toll on care home staff as they must pick themselves up after a loss and continue looking after everyone else. There must still be an opportunity though to take a few moments, take some deep breaths, gather thoughts, and quietly remember. From experience, I find grief often pulls people together and that staff are amazing at supporting each other to mourn a loss in the way that only carers can know.

We can only comprehend our own grief, but we also have to empathise with the residents during this time. Residents have friends and loved ones in their home – they may have built a network of friendship and support which has enhanced their days. On the flip side, they may also, quite naturally, have people they dislike in the care home too, but no matter the relationship between them, it is a shock to the system when a person passes away. Residents are used to seeing certain people around – familiar faces in a care home give each other a sense of comfort, familiarity and assurance – so, when they are gone, you may notice residents become a little anxious.

I have experienced residents becoming very upset that they have lost friends. They can feel sad that they will not have a bond with anyone else in the care home again, and unhappy that the person’s family will no longer be visiting. It can trigger memories of other people’s deaths, especially those of loved ones, and make them feel scared that, due to their own age and health, it could be them next. Bear in mind when talking to residents that these are a few of the thoughts that may be going through their minds.

The most important thing is to allow the person to talk if they wish to. Bottling up feelings can suppress emotions and can cause stress, anxiety and depression over time. Ensure that you keep checking in with the person regularly, as we all know these feelings of grief and loss may stay for a long time.

As time goes on, and the circle of life continues, routines get back to normal and new faces will arrive. This can be a shock to the system, when we carry on as normal after someone has gone, but how can we ensure that people who are loved and lost are remembered every day in our homes, and allow the residents to mourn?

These are some of our favourite ways to mark a passing and keep remembering…

Memory tree – Hang photographs of people you have loved and lost in a quiet area of the home. Place a chair nearby so residents, staff and relatives can sit there and think. Maybe place a frame nearby with some inspirational quotes and poems too.

Memory book – Purchase a hardback book that will last, in which people can write down their messages, thoughts and poems. Writing down what you are feeling is also a good way to come to terms with things rather than bottling it all up.

Engravings – Have a feature in the garden, whether that be a bench, bird table, or archway, which could be engraved with a name.

Hold a celebration of life – This is a simple gathering. If you can, invite the family of the person who has passed which will allow the residents and the family to engage in memories together. (You could hold this after lockdown if you are remembering people you have lost during the pandemic.)

Photo boards – For people to look at and reminisce.

Hold a hymn session – Do it in the evening when it is darker. Place candles on tables and fairy lights around the room to change the atmosphere. Read poems and sermons, and raise a glass to those you are remembering.

Make ‘With Sympathy’ cards for the family – This should be a one-to-one experience so the residents can speak about their feelings while crafting.

Go on a walk – Even if it is just around the garden or down the road, and only when you are able. Time away from the care home will be a nice change of scene and a break from reality.

Write a eulogy – Do it with the residents, about the person who has passed away, and use it as an opportunity to speak about their time in the home – what you liked about them, special memories of them, and how you will miss them. Have a minute’s silence, read the eulogy and raise a toast!

Play a favourite song – Use the intercom if your home has one, and maybe say a few words beforehand.

Plant a tree – Or some flowers. Forget-me-nots are a really lovely touch.

Finally, remember that death is hard to come to terms with, and it is hard for us to know how much time people need to grieve. I hope these ideas can be used in your home to help to remember people, yet not be too intrusive that people cannot find space if they need to.

We think about you always,
We talk about you still.
You have never been forgotten,
And you never will.
We hold you close within our hearts,
And there you will remain.
To walk and guide us through our lives,
Until we meet again.