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COPING WITH DEATH IN THE PANDEMIC

Birth begins life and death ends life and ‘that’s life’.   Each birth and each death are unique regardless of the circumstances.   More often than not death is peaceful, “she slipped away in her sleep”.   At times death is traumatic occurring in pain, by accident or murder and too often by the persons own hands.  The peaceful deaths send waves of peace to those left behind despite their sadness at the loss of their loved one.  The traumatic deaths leave those left behind in a state of shock and with many unanswered questions.  Ireland has a wealth of ritual around death which supports and helps those left behind to grieve appropriately.

As Health Care Assistants (HCAs) you will journey to the edge of life with some of the people you care for.  In normal times your ability to deal effectively with death will depend on your personality, your experience of death and your attitude to death.

Today, in the face of the Corvid 19 crises, HCAs who work with the ill and dying person are emotionally affected by the loneliness of the individual who is unable to say farewell to their nearest and dearest, to meet with them face to face and to hug them for the last time.   The dying person’s emotional pain can be excruciating.  Care recipients can become like a family member to the HCAs over time and their loss is deeply felt by the caring staff.  The dynamic in the residence/nursing home changes when several of the residents succumb to the virus.

When the person dies of Covid 19 the undertakers are contacted and they require confirmation of the cause of death from the attending doctor. In the case of death from Corvid 19 they send in a special team to remove the body.  The staff do not prepare the body as they would in normal times.  The remains are placed in a body bag before being placed in the coffin and the lid is closed.

The Funeral

The funeral rituals have been radically altered due to the Covid 19 virus and its ability to spread, infecting those who come in contact with it. Following the death, the family contact the undertakers of their choice and will be guided through the process of choosing a coffin, burial or cremation, religious service or not etc. The burial or cremation takes place more quickly.  In more recent times it has become popular for the family to take the deceased person home for an Irish wake.  This cannot happen in families where their loved one died from Covid 19.  However, a religious service can take place attended by a limited number of close family and friends.

The rituals around Irish funerals is healing for those who participate and becomes the topic of conversation for quite some time afterwards.  It is enormously helpful to the grieving process.  In the presence of Corvid 19 we no longer have these rituals to the same extent and must find other ways to remember our loved one.

In times past a person nearing death was not left alone whether in hospital, nursing home or at home.  A family member or student nurse sat with the person day and night.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case today.   Many people die alone.

As an HCA it is very important that, on your first experience of caring for a dying person you are not left to cope alone and when death occurs you are accompanied by experienced staff in preparation of the body for funeral and burial.

In Normal Times

Knowing what services are available to the family of the dying person is  valuable;  the different options on matters such as the preparation of the body for burial, funeral homes in the locality, having the body laid out at home for friends and neighbours to come and pay their respects, what Social Welfare grants might be available, etc. Who is responsible for registering the death? The family can then approach the undertakers with some knowledge of what they need or want.

Grieving

In nursing homes and residential care centres where there have been deaths due to corvid 19, it may help the grieving process of staff and other residents to set up a memorial gallery of photos of those who have died. Place a scented candle or pot of scented oils and flowers on a small table in front of it, with a list of the names and ages of those who have died.

Chirag K at unsplash

In April 2009 the HSE produced a book entitled Health Services Intercultural Guide, researched and written by Bridget McGuane.   It covers twenty-five systems of belief and non-belief, their customs and traditions in relation to death and dying   http://hse.openrepository.com/hse/handle/10147/86553

Anne Marie Lee

 

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