Once upon a time, when a resident passed away in an aged care facility, it was as though people tried to hide the fact that it had happened.

Doors were closed, and blinds drawn. People were ushered away, and bodies were quietly taken out the back door.

Fast forward to today, and there is a much more open attitude when a person in a residential aged care facility dies.

Acknowledging that a resident has passed is seen as a sign of respect, it’s treating their life with meaning and dignity, and it to also helpful for staff, family and other residents who of course will have their own feelings about someone so close to them passing way.

In this spirit of acknowledgement, respect and openness, many residences now have rituals and ceremonies they perform when someone passes, to mark the sad occasion, to celebrate a life, to allow people pay their respects to the person who has passed, and to provide comfort to family, staff, and residents.

Guard of honour

At some BlueCross facilities, staff and residents form a guard of honour as a resident who has passed away leaves.

Therese Brown, Residence Manager, BlueCross Hansworth, told HelloCare that for the last seven years, BlueCross has been conducting a number of practices when a resident dies.

The death is announced at the facility, and soon afterwards staff, residents and family are called upon to form a guard of honour.

Some sit, others stand, and there is often as many as thirty or forty people in attendance, Ms Brown said.

When residents make their end of life plans at the facility, they are asked their favourite song. That song is then played as the person is wheeled out.

BlueCross Hansworth had someone come in and help residents make a quilt, which they fondly call ‘The Hansworth Angels’. When a resident passes away, their name is added to the quilt, and the quilt is draped over the body.

A family member usually leads the procession, but if no family are present, a staff member or another resident will lead. Those present throw rose petals.

Afterwards, the quilt is folded, and carefully packed away. Staff come in an they thank everyone. People usually remain gathered around for a while, quietly or chatting amongst themselves, and then the day slowly returns to normal, and people resume going about their business.

The lifestyle team at BlueCross Hansworth then gathers photos together, and puts them on a CD for families. Ms Brown said the contents are often used in the family’s own services, because they capture the final stage of the person’s life.

“A beautiful ceremony”

Janine Stockley, General Manager and Director of Nursing at the specialist palliative care unit at Cabrini Hospital, told HelloCare that when a patient dies there are several things they do.

A ‘lotus lamp’ is turned on, and the light remains on on until the deceased has been transferred. The lamp represents respect and sacredness that a life has passed in their care, and it sits at the front reception desk. It alerts staff to be mindful of the fact that there will be grieving family on the unit.

Staff lay a dignity cloth over the trolley when a person leaves the facility, and a room blessing is given by staff in the room where the patient passed away.

A “beautiful ceremony” is held at Memorial Services Malvern, and these are always well attended, Ms Stockley said. Families are invited and are asked to bring a photo.

Cabrini also offers a bereavement service in which families are contacted the day after the death, and then followed up six weeks later and again on the anniversary of the passing away.

The Lotus lamp lit up to let people know that someone has passed away. Image supplied.

The Lotus lamp lit up to let people know that someone has passed away. Image supplied.

If residents are good enough to come in the front door, that’s the way they should leave

BlueCross has produced a video titled ‘A dignified Farewell’ about the ceremonies they perform when a resident dies.

Faye Audino, Residence Manager, BlueCross Riverlea, said, “We decided that if residents were good enough to come in the front door, that’s the way they would leave.”

The guard of honour was introduced across a number of BlueCare facilities.

“It is not only for the resident that is passing, that acknowledgement that they are a treasured member of our community, but it also says something to the residents that are left behind,” said Ms Audino.

Ms Audino says she would encourage aged care facilities to have their own final farewells for residents and “not being afraid, because it is part of life. The residents know that it’s part of life when they come here. It’s a privilege to look after them, we should be treating them with the respect they deserve.”

It’s how she would like to see her own parents farewelled if they were to pass away in a nursing home, she said.

Annie Tragin, Transitional Care Planner, BlueCross Hansworth, says she experienced the  “darkest times” for aged care “where there was no respect, there was no dignity, there was no meaning and value placed on their life.”

“I can remember shutting many blinds and going past into the main community area and shutting all the blinds, and telling people, could you please go back to your rooms for that time. They never had any input,” she said.

“To then to see the transformation that’s come now, it gets back to the meaning of life that’s lived and everyone deserves that,” Ms Tragin said.

As one resident says, “They let us know when it’s going to happen. We’re all waiting for him or her to leave by the front door. I think that’s their right and our right as well.”

Maureen, a resident at BlueCross Hansworth, says, “It’s sad, very very sad, but then again we’ve all got to go through it. That’s the way I look at it.”

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