Dealing with Grief: How to Cope when clients pass away

Dealing with Grief: How to Cope when clients pass away

User Profile By Del Mcalister   Australia

Found In: Activities Articles

Working in aged care is extremely interesting and rewarding, but it’s also heartbreaking as most of our clients end up dying.  We are in a constant state of grief yet most of us push the sadness aside and muster up the strength to carry on for the sake of the others.
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Working in aged care is extremely interesting and rewarding, but it’s also heartbreaking as most of our clients end up dying.

We are in a constant state of grief yet most of us push the sadness aside and muster up the strength to carry on for the sake of the others.

But today I want you to pause for a moment to acknowledge that it is most likely you are carrying a huge amount of grief in your heart.

Unresolved grief can become Compounded Grief

Unless we mourn the loss of the people we cared for, and process our grief, we can end up with what is called ‘compounded grief’.

Compounded Grief is the term we use for layers of unacknowledged and unresolved grief.

Since many of us are unable to attend funeral services, we need to find our own ways to deal with the losses we experience on a regular basis.

So, what can we do?

How to avoid internalizing Sadness

Firstly, we need to ensure we do not internalize our sadness. It is something we cannot push under the proverbial carpet, nor can we bury our head in the sand and pretend everything is fine.

Human beings are not designed to internalize emotions, particularly the intense feelings associated with grief. We need to remain in touch with our feelings and then find ways to process them.

We can do this by:

  • talking to a trusted person
  • writing down our feelings
  • pursuing art and creative activities

Find Ways to Experience Comfort

Secondly, we need to find ways to experience comfort. What works for one person, may not work for another so I always encourage my clients to do what works best for them.

Here are some ideas that bereaved people have found comforting:

  • chatting with a close friend or family member
  • journaling
  • going for walks in serene places
  • listening to soothing music
  • engaging in enjoyable hobbies
  • enjoying a pet
  • praying
  • meditating
  • gardening
  • artwork
  • practicing mindfulness
  • joining a grief support group

Debrief with your Colleagues

Thirdly, I believe there needs to be sessions available for staff members to de-brief with one another.

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the American Declaration of Independence once said,
“Who can so softly bind up the wound of another, as he who has felt the same wound himself.”

This is why I am strong proponent of staff supporting each other as they grieve the loss of a resident.

The old saying that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is pertinent to such sessions. These guided support groups would ideally be facilitated by a chaplain or someone with counselling skills.

Do something Nice for Yourself

Lastly, I suggest you discover ways to enjoy some pampering. We nurture ourselves by indulging in things that enhance our wellbeing such as:

  • going to a nice restaurant,
  • having a massage,
  • going to the hairdressers,
  • going to a day spa,
  • having a round of golf,
  • or going away on a holiday etc.

If your budget doesn't allow some of these luxuries I suggest enjoying the therapeutic beauty of the outdoors such as leisurely walks along the beach or the forest, or by visiting some lovely gardens.

Watching the sunset is very therapeutic, and doesn't cost a cent.

Build Resilience in the face of Sorrow

There is a fable about two trees in a field, one being a willow and the other being an oak. The willow would often comment on the strength of the oak and wished he was as strong as he.

Then one day there was a terrible storm, and the oak fell but the willow remained standing. When asked why, the gardener explained how as the winds blew, the willow was able to bend, while the oak couldn’t adapt to the adverse circumstances, and fell.

Within every human being is an amazing ability to discover resilience in the face of tragedy and sorrow. Resilience is not the suppression of grief, rather it is the strength that enables us to embrace and process it.

Resilience provides the ability to absorb sadness, and then empowers us to discover ways to live with it.

It includes accessing resources, encircling ourselves with people who care and seeking avenues of healing when our hearts ache.

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Comments   Post a Comment

Almira 23rd Jan 2019 Recreational Activity Officer
This is so true....I am so struck with every bit of the line in this article . Extremely useful to us who deals with a lot of aged people under our care.
Talita 27th Jan 2019
Thanks for your feedback Almira
Maria 3rd Apr 2017 Lifestyle Assistant
Thank you for posting this article. My CM is organizing a seminar on Dealing with Grief, any suggestions whom we can contact to talk about it in our facility. I will really appreciate your suggestions. Thanks
Del 4th Apr 2017 activities officer
I'm available to come and talk at facilities. Please contact me directly- [email protected]
Del 30th Mar 2017 activities officer
It looks like my article was perfect timing for so many of you. Xx
Kathleen 30th Mar 2017 Supervisor/ Activity Coordinator
Thank you for this wonderful article Del.
Our Adult Day program has lost four of our seniors already this year. On top of that, one of my co-workers lost an Uncle and my other co-worker lost a very dear friend of the family to a MVI recently. We have all been struggling with our own grief in our own way. I am giving each of my staff a copy of this and we will be talking it over at our staff meeting next week. Our client losses were not expected so were a double blow to us and our clients.
As a group we make small photo albums for the families of their loved ones time with our program, and have everyone sign a card of thanks to the family for sharing their loved one with all of us. We pass the photo album around our group and reminisce as a way of healing with our program attendees. They are encouraged to write down a funny memory or a special moment they remember of the person who has died. We put these in the book as well. This helps all of us heal and the families like the books too. I think as caregivers we often forget to take time to grieve ourselves. That is why I so appreciate your article. It is grounding. Thank you.
Del 30th Mar 2017 activities officer
So glad the article was published just at the right time for you Kathleen x
Terri 28th Mar 2017 Therapy assistant
I too can only say thank you with all my heart. I was just saying today to a colleague how do you cope as we spoke of a resident who was coming back from hospital palletive care. We spoke that it feels at times that you are in a constant feeling of grief as we see residents that you love and care for pass on.
I will be taking your article into work tomorrow to share. Thank you again.
Talita 29th Mar 2017
All the best of luck to you Terri. Thanks for your feedback.
Sue 28th Mar 2017 Activities Aide
THank you so much for this timely article.
A month ago our family experienced the heartache of losing our young officer and his young friend in a tragic accident. My nephew was the driver and fell asleep at the wheel. Both were killed at the scene. I never had a chance to say goodbye to him, and my sister has been brittle dealing with her own grief and heartache.
TOday, I sat with one of my elder friends as he passed on. Family was not able to be with him, so I took my ukulele and sang hymns and read psalms. I felt honored to be part of his going on. In our dementia unit, such passing is a blessing as the latter stages of the disease take away life vitality. As his life departed, I asked him to tell my nephew how much I love him and miss him.
Later when family arrived, they felt so appreciative that I was there in those moments.
But the blessing is mine. This fine man had spent his life serving the church and shared a year with us and much joy.

With grief, I try to remember the joys.
Talita 29th Mar 2017
What a touching story Sue. Thinking of you and wishing you all the best x
Kath 28th Mar 2017 Lifestyle Coordinator
Thank you, so much to say about this and how needed it is, all I can do right now is say thank you.
Talita 29th Mar 2017
Thank you Kath for posting. I hope all is well.
Del 28th Mar 2017 activities officer
Del has submitted an article: Dealing with Grief
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