As a professional caregiver, you’re well aware that death is inevitable. While you’ve probably had specific training on the steps to take when a client passes away while under your care, many instructors fail to address the crucial interaction you may face with your patient’s family after the fact. This brings up an important question: How involved is too involved when a client passes?
While many of the following suggestions depend on both the length of time the client was in your care and the relationship you built with the patient and their family members, this will give you some ideas for showing your respect after your client departs this world.
Mail a Sympathy Card
Sending a sympathy card is always a safe recourse, even if you’ve had minimal contact with the client’s family. A card will always be appreciated and will let the family members know their loved one was more than a job to those involved in their final days.
If you spent an extended period of time with your patient, you might consider sending flowers to the wake, or making a donation instead if it was specifically requested. If you have one or more colleagues who also attended the client, it is perfectly acceptable to send one arrangement from all who were personally involved.
Attend the Service
It’s not at all unusual for caregivers and physicians to attend the funeral of a beloved patient. According to Professor Bruce Arroll at the National Institutes of Health, a professional’s attendance at the funeral “may help the relative over the shock and the initial grief and prepare them for gradual acceptance.”
Sometimes a caregiver spends months or years taking care of a client and becomes accepted as an extra family member. If this is the situation you’re facing, you should understand you’re most likely going through the grief process yourself. It’s not unprofessional to offer more than the minimal in this case, so here are a few ideas if you feel you should go the extra mile when a beloved client has passed away.
Order Funeral Cards
If you know the family is on a tight budget, you might consider making a contribution to the funeral itself. This doesn’t have to be anything major. You could pay for something small like funeral prints, photo books or prayer cards as a thoughtful way to show how much the client will be missed by you, as well as the family.
Pick up Meds
Often the devil is in the details, and something as simple as offering to pick up the client’s medications and delivering them for proper disposal will seem like a monumental chore to a grieving family. A caveat here: If you offer to do this, make sure you leave a detailed inventory of the medications before you take on this responsibility.
Many times a patient has special needs during their final months or days and family members are unaware of the protocol involved in returning equipment that has been leased or borrowed. Oxygen tanks and wheelchairs are typical in this category, and you can volunteer to return them or notify the supplier for pickup. Unused supplies such as bandages can often be donated to an organization which helps the uninsured.
Bring a Meal
Bringing food is the universal sign of friendship and comfort, so don’t worry about falling back on an old standard. A casserole or other foodstuff which can be easily reheated will always be appreciated, especially if the immediate family is faced with a deluge of visitors from out of town.
Call a Week Later
If you feel like a part of the family, don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Often the survivors feel lost once the wake and funeral is over and the reality of their loss begins to set in. Calling or visiting will remind them that their loved one was more than just another patient to you, so don’t be afraid to talk about your client who has passed. Reminiscing about a fond memory may be the key they need to process their loss and begin the next stage of life without their loved one.
As you go through the process of comforting your client’s survivors, keep in mind that caregiving is a stressful occupation. Regardless of your professional attitude, you may also be suffering from the loss of a beloved client. Remember the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Take some time for your own emotions to process the loss, so you don’t end up suffering from occupational burnout.