Claire Hoffman presents her Coping With Grief Series Part 8.
GRIEF AND BEREAVEMENT

Coping With Grief Part 8: Supporting Healthcare Workers Through a Death

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  • Claire Hoffman
  • Writer, Bare
  • August 21, 2020
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My name is Claire and I’m a Customer Experience Manager at Bare Cremation.

Two years ago, my husband was suddenly and traumatically taken from me. This ever-present fixture in my life was suddenly gone. After going through grief myself, I wanted to share my story. So I’ve put together this eight-part series about coping with loss and bereavement based on my personal experiences with grief.

As a society, we’re not great at dealing with death and grief. At Bare, we want to change this. In this final article in the series, I take a look at aged and palliative care workers and share some thoughts on how to manage these conversations when it’s part of your everyday routine.

Grief as a part of everyday life

Aged care and palliative care are those professions where you’re up close to death every day. The average stay for someone in an aged care facility in Australia is three years – that’s a long time to get to know someone and for them to become an important part of your life. Caring for someone is a close and intimate connection and it can be hard when these people, who were such a big part of your life, die.

Big emotions

Even for aged care and palliative care workers who are expecting a death and used to death, it can still hit you very hard when it happens.

Working as a carer means you’re dealing with a lot of big emotions – your own and your resident’s. Even if your resident isn’t ludic, you’ll be dealing with family members who are distressed and dealing with complex emotions – perhaps guilt, relief, fear or anger. These can take a toll in the same way that death itself can.

The importance of recognition

As a carer, it’s important to recognise if grief is having a big impact on your life. If you’re finding that you’re struggling with day-to-day tasks, having trouble concentrating, avoiding social situations, or feeling changes in your mood, you might be experiencing grief.

Check-in with yourself regularly – what are you thinking about? How are you feeling? How are you managing? Talking with colleagues, managers, and your family and friends is important. A counsellor can also be helpful.

Some ideas that might help

Regular staff meetings

Set up a regular staff meeting where aged care or palliative care workers can discuss residents who have died. This is an opportunity for workers to connect with each other and acknowledge the memory of the residents whose loss they feel most deeply.

Death is still tough for healthcare workers
Even for palliative care and aged care workers, death can still hit hard when it happens.

Set up a memorial

Setting up a memorial in the aged care residency can be a great way to help people in the community process their grief. This can be a pinboard or a table somewhere – a place where people can leave photos and trinkets or write down their thoughts or memories.

Plan a ceremony

Ceremony is an important part of how we process death – funerals, wakes and vigils are all different types of ceremonies. Some residencies have ceremonies when a resident dies. Perhaps all the staff pay their respects when the body is collected. You might like to hold a special morning tea the following day with the deceased’s family and the staff in honour of the person who’s died.

Ask yourself questions

If you’re struggling with the death of an aged care resident, it’s important to ask yourself why this death is staying with you. Are you missing seeing them each day? Do you have guilt because you weren’t on shift when they died? Do you feel as though you didn’t meet their palliative care needs the way you should have? Are you worried about their family? Has their death sparked thoughts about your own mortality or the death of those you love, outside of work? Did something stick with you from preparing their bodies for transport?

Perhaps there is nothing in particular about this death that is troubling you – maybe it is just the number of deaths you’ve dealt with up to this point, or constantly having to juggle the emotional and physical demands of dying and death.

Set boundaries

Perhaps there are things you need to put in place to help delineate your work and personal life. Sometimes going for a walk when you get home, having a shower or even just sitting down with a cup of tea can help you transition from work and all of the complex emotions that are there.

Remember – you need to fill up your tank. You can’t be there for other people if you’re not there for yourself.

In this eight-part Coping With Grief series, I’ve shared what I learnt about having healthy conversations – with yourself, your friends, your kids. I share some advice for those on the other side of grief on how you can be a good friend, a good partner and a good human.

You can read my other articles in the series including 5 Biggest Grief Myths Busted and The Day My World Changed Forever. Look out for the other articles in the series coming soon. We’ve also compiled a list of useful bereavement, grief counselling and other support services across Australia here.

All information provided is general in nature. For additional information relating to advance care planning, please speak to your health professional for advice about your specific circumstances. If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, call 000. For Lifeline’s Crisis Counselling service call 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636.

Want to see what our cremation service will cost in your area?To get a free quote, visit the Bare Cremation website or call 1800 071 176.

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