Practical ideas to help with grief and loss

By Claire Henry MBE | February 24, 2020

We know that death is a certainty, but it can still come as a shock when it happens.

In social care, while we understand and expect that families and close friends need to grieve and remember, we can forget that sometimes staff, including you as a manager, will need to do the same.

Many of us will have experienced becoming attached to a resident. This can be a relationship that has been years in the making with someone who we may have known for some time, or we might have developed a close bond with someone in a short space of time. Feelings that you encounter when that person dies can be hard to handle, especially when you have to return to work immediately.

Why remember?

It is important to remember that the sadness surrounding the death of someone close to us may never go away, but remembrance lives on. Residents, families, staff and you as a manager need to create opportunities to remember the good times, not just the end.

As a staff team, you may already have ways that you remember clients. However, it is always worth thinking about whether there are different ways that you can support and offer the opportunity for people to remember those who have died. This can be especially important around times that would usually bring people together to celebrate, such as the person’s birthday or Christmas for example. At these times, sending cards to the families of clients who have died shows that you remember them.

Practical remembrance ideas

I was recently visiting an extra care housing scheme. In its main foyer was a tree of remembrance, which was laden with messages from both residents and staff. This enabled people to leave messages whenever they felt the need.

I have also seen books of remembrance, where people can leave messages or place photographs. Other services have developed remembrance boards where Orders of Service, poems and important items can be placed to share with residents and staff.

Some colleagues within care homes have remembrance teas or services with other organisations enabling families, residents and staff to come together and share their memories of the person who has passed away.

We can also adapt ideas from others, like lighting candles in memory of a loved one or special friend who has died.

The importance of talking cannot be underestimated. This can help staff and those living in the home to come to terms with the loss, and families who are still a part of the home to feel as though the person is remembered. As a friend said to me recently, ‘I just want people to say his name.’ A person may have died but they remain with the people they were important to, and sharing stories is a key way of remembering those who have passed.

Nature can play an important part in coping with grief and loss, as people may want to bring in plants or flowers as a sign of remembrance. This can extend to a remembrance garden where people can spend time or plant flowers to remember that special person who has died.

Doing what’s right for you

When you’re handling the death of a resident, or any person who was close to you, be kind to yourself. Grief and loss can affect us all, but participating in acts of remembrance can be of some comfort and can keep those who have been special to us part of lives today.

Think about

  • How do you remember residents?
  • Is there a new way to remember that will support your staff, residents and their families?
  • Have you thought about linking up with local organisations to join in acts of remembrance?

Useful links

Grief Awareness Week

Cruse at Christmas

Helping People to Remember

Claire Henry MBE

About Claire Henry MBE

MBE RGN Postgraduate Diploma BSc (Hons)
Independent Consultant in Palliative and End of Life Care
Claire Henry is an Independent Consultant specialising in end of life care. Her previous roles have included National Director for the NHS End of Life Care Programme which supported the implementation of the National End of Life Care Strategy for England, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and Director of Improvement and Transformation at Hospice UK.

Claire’s background is in nursing; she trained at South Lincolnshire School of Nursing. After qualifying, she worked predominately in cancer and palliative care. She was awarded an MBE for her services to improving end-of-life care in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2013. Claire has also received a lifetime achievement award from the International Journal of Palliative Nursing Award.

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