In an assisted living facility, the grieving process can affect so many individuals, from the residents and family members to the administration and caregiver staff.

Helping Residents Deal with Grief

Whether it’s a spouse, family member, or friend, your residents will face loss in their life and it’s important for caregivers to be there to help them through the grieving process. Grieving won’t look the same in every resident, it may manifest itself in emotional outbursts, anger, or isolation.

Although most people are familiar with the Five Stages of Grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, it’s important to understand that grieving almost never follows a straight path and there is no timeframe where grieving should be over.

You and your team can be there for your residents for emotional support in their time of loss.

  • Just listen. Don’t feel compelled to give advice, share your own stories, or say you “know how they feel.”
  • Make sure they feel safe to share their grief, even if it comes through as anger or bitterness.
  • Don’t force them to share their feelings. If they do share, don’t hurry them.
  • Encourage them to remember and celebrate milestones (an anniversary or friend’s birthday) and reminisce about the person they lost.

If a Fellow Resident Passes Away

Over the years, assisted living facilities have changed their approach to addressing the passing of a resident. In the past, death was dealt with quietly and not talked about, for fear of upsetting other residents. Today residents are given the opportunity to celebrate the lives of their friends, which can greatly aid in helping residents throughout the grieving process and allowing for closure.

Provide your residents a time to come together to share memories of their friend and say a final goodbye. Encourage them to write notes, either expressing sympathies or sharing stories, to the family of their companion. Small gestures such as these will also comfort residents, knowing they, too, will be remembered and celebrated after their final days.

Helping Family Members Deal with Grief

As a daily presence in the life of their loved one, family members may turn to your assisted living staff after the passing of a resident to help with their grief.

  • If family members have gathered to spend a resident’s final hours along side him/her, offer your support. Volunteer to stay with the resident while the family takes a quick walk to get some fresh air or offer to bring them coffee or snacks.
  • Take your cues from the family, as not every family will grieve in the same way. Some families may enjoy having a caregiver stop by and share stories about the resident. Others may want to be left alone as they tend to their loved one’s affairs.
  • If family is traveling from out of town, ask if there is anything you can do to help them get the resident’s possessions in order. Ask first before helping. It may seem unsympathetic if they arrive to find their family member’s life packed up.

Helping Caregivers Deal with Grief

Although caregivers work in an environment where they deal with aging and the loss of life on a daily basis, it doesn’t mean they are immune to the emotional process of grief. There may be a special resident they have formed a close relationship with and it may feel like losing one of their own family members when that resident passes away.

If you know a caregiver was close with a resident who passed, consider calling them at home and sharing the news prior to the start of his/her shift. This may give your team member time to mentally prepare before returning to the community where they shared so much time together.

If you see that a team member is having a particularly hard time with the death of a resident, consider these strategies.

  • Offer your assistance. Cover her workload if she needs to step away for a few minutes to compose herself.
  • Be a good listener. You don’t always need to fill the silence. Instead you can assure your co-worker you’re here to listen if she’d like to talk.
  • Don’t let her carry a burden. Caregivers may carry a sense of guilt that they did not do enough to help a resident or they weren’t present when the resident passed. Reassure them the staff did all they could.

If you’d like to share more information with your team on how to support residents, families, and each other during moments of grieving, look into SeniorLivingU’s End-of-Life Care manual.