Submitted by Anonymous

People die in aged care almost everyday across Australia. Most of them have lived long and full lives. And regardless of how unwell or how old they may have been, it will understandably be a very difficult time for the families when the time comes.

It’s a part of life and ageing that we eventually need to accept.

Since the recent death of a ‘special’ relative it’s made me think about the importance of aged care services following up with families after the resident or client dies.

I write about this topic today – because I want to open up a healthy conversation about what others that have been through a similar situation feels is a suitable response from the aged care facility or service after their loved one dies. Do other families expect some form of follow up, by the way of a card, a phone call or a text message sending a condolence for their loss – from the people who cared for their loved one in their final days.

Or do people feel there is no need for any follow up after their loved one dies? Maybe people would prefer their time to grieve privately?

So many questions unanswered and perhaps unknown.

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Whilst out and about and meeting with people in the industry and families I have been asking what they would ideally like to see from aged care facilities (if anything)? What is the preferred course of action for management in these facilities when interacting with the bereaved families?

Here are some of the responses I learned are currently in place – and I open up discussion to hear more ideas:

  • Some facilities will host an annual memorial. One day every year, staff will invite the families of all the residents who passed over the last 12 month and hold a service to remember them.
  • Some families of the deceased residents’ wish to have the funeral ceremony in the actual nursing home as their “family” primarily consisted of the staff and residents who were with them for the last few years.
  • Some will send a card signed by the ‘care team’.

All of which I feel are more than acceptable interactions and ways to show the family that their special someone – meant something to them.

Unfortunately the experience with my mother’s facility was that no-one from the facility had contacted me or my family to send their condolences or to see how we were doing. And as she died in the night, rather unexpectedly I was even more surprised.

I do also have to add which compounded this was that my mother’s facility accidentally messaged me inviting us to the “Resident’s Relative Meeting” the week following her death. A small oversight – which unfortunately given we were still in mourning didn’t leave a lasting impression – making my mother’s existence seem very transactional. Intentional or not it wasn’t ideal.

These things I appreciate can easily happen – that’s why I raise it so that if you do manage a facility it may be worthwhile to consider how these ‘little’ things can impact the bereaved.

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What about the aged care workers? Are they grieving too?

In all of this, we must not forget the impact the death of a resident has on the aged care workers also. Having cared for the residents for an extended period of time, the staff build relationships that can significantly impact their emotional wellbeing. We also have to think about them too – are they grieving too? Who is taking care of them?

It became apparent to me about the impact it has on the care staff when my mother died the carer shared with us “the loss of your mother is also very hard on us too, we’ve known her for so long”. And she’s right – it is hard for aged care workers too.

From what I can see each facility responds to the wellbeing of both the bereaved families and their staff very differently. There are limited resources from what I can find to understand the correct way to support people in need. I’d like to put it out to your community and hear what others have to say. I imagine most families, like mine, would appreciate some sort of communication from the staff – either to share their grief or to check up on them.

What can we learn from those who have lost a loved one while living in aged care?
If you had a family member in aged care would you be open to providing anonymous feedback after their death in the form of a survey? If so – what would be the ideal time to do this?

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