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‘How someone dies makes a big difference to how you grieve’

By 7th January 2021No Comments

Whether someone has died from Covid-19 or an unrelated illness during the pandemic, lockdown is having a major impact on how people grieve.

For many, the natural response after losing someone is to turn to friends and family for comfort but with limited social contact, that is not always possible.

Janey from Bristol lost her husband Dave in October, just before the second lockdown came into force in England. 

Janey and Dave at home celebrating 32 years of marriage.

With the help of our Palliative Care Home support team, Dave was able to leave hospital and die peacefully at home with his family by his side.

Janey’s thank you note to the team after her husband passed said she was “eternally grateful” to them for turning a “potentially horrendous experience into a good death.”

Here is her story. 

“Dave was 65 when he died, he had been living with prostate cancer for six years, but he suddenly became quite unwell and was admitted to hospital. After four days, doctors discovered his cancer had spread to his lungs and he was told he only had weeks to live.

“That was a real shock, but we decided that the most important thing for us as a family, was to be together at home.

“Our first week in the house was quite nerve wracking, Dave was very weak, and he needed a lot of help with his personal care. Ten days in, he could no longer get out of bed and I was worried about him falling and ending up back in hospital.

That was when the team from Sirona started coming and I no longer felt like I was on my own. I always knew when they would arrive, and they were the one service that were always consistent. The whole team were so kind, and they gave the impression that they were never in a hurry.

“They would often spend an hour with Dave, talking to him and making sure he was comfortable and not in too much pain. Even when things were difficult, they reassured me that it was ok for him to stay at home.

“Dave passed away at 5.30am on 11 October 2020. I wasn’t expecting to see the team again, but they visited that afternoon to see how I was doing. I thought that was amazing and it felt like they really cared.

“I will always be grateful to them for making sure he could stay at home for the last three weeks of his life. We were even able to celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary together.

“I think how someone dies makes a big difference to how you grieve, and for me, knowing that he had the best death he could meant the world to us.”

Olivia Mitchell, a Palliative Care Home support nurse, was part of the team that cared for Dave and his family.

Six months ago, Olivia was working in intensive care but moved to end of life care in the community because she felt people who are at the end of their life should be supported to die with dignity at home.

Olivia and her team have been working throughout the pandemic.

“Being in lockdown and with social distancing, we are no longer able to provide that comforting touch or a reassuring hug, so we have to find alternative ways of supporting people and their families through conversation alone. Even in dark times with Dave’s family, we were able to lift the mood by talking to him about his life and the memories that made him smile.

“I wasn’t there when Dave passed away, but it is really sad being with someone in the final moments of their life, afterwards I do get quite upset especially if you have made a strong connection with someone, like we did with Dave’s family. However, the focus is always on the individual, so it’s important to keep calm and create a relaxed environment. Some people choose to have music playing or the radio on and it’s those kinds of personal touches that we encourage.

“I think that you start grieving before someone has passed away, for some that will be on the day they first get a poor diagnosis, so it’s important that we support them throughout. Of course, we were looking after Dave, but we were also looking after his family as well and just because Dave’s gone that doesn’t mean we disappear.

“Receiving a note like the one Janey kindly sent us, makes me really proud of the work we do. It motivates me and the rest of the team to try and do the best we can and keep putting our patients and their loved ones first.”

For more information on our End of Life and Palliative Care home support service click here.

Macmillan produce useful booklets for patients such as End of Life and Bereavement and Your Life and your choices: Plan Ahead. These are available to order or download from Macmillian.

Marie Curie has produced booklets for both people in the final stages of life and their carers.

Read more: National Grief Awareness Week: Death in different cultures