Professional Comment

How Social Care Workers Can Support Those Who Are Grieving

By Lianna Champ who has over 40 years’ experience as a grief and funeral care specialist and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ.

In your working life, as well as caring for the day-to-day physical needs of your service users, you will naturally find yourself providing support and care on an emotional level too. As a carer you will develop a unique relationship and bond with each of them. You will be instrumental in their welfare on many levels and will often find yourself supporting them through a loss.

The value of your ability to help comes from a place of empathy and understanding of what a person is going through therefore you need to have an understanding of grief and the physical and emotional effects.

Each loss we experience is totally unique to each of us and even though we may share similar emotions to others we do not follow the same pattern. Grief is incredibly personal and even though we may remember how we felt at the time of our own losses, we cannot and should not compare our own loss experiences with someone else’s. This just minimises the importance of the other persons feelings and hijacks their experience and can cause them to withdraw and isolate.

Grievers are often pre-occupied with their loss and this can present as lack of concentration, forgetfulness, disrupted sleeping and eating habits and even having little accidents like banging into things, also nausea and headaches. If their grief is ignored it can have a negative impact on their physical and mental wellbeing and can even lead to depression if left long enough.

Your position as a carer is privileged. You may be the only confidante and safe haven for your service users to open up to where they have no fear of judgment or criticism.

Encourage your service user to …
• talk about their relationship and share their memories. Often the intense sadness can be lifted in the times we share our happy memories. We then remember and return to grieving. This is normal and healthy and the more they feel able to share their sadness the lighter it can become and the easier it is to open up when they feel overwhelmed. .
• eat well – little and often is good. It is easy to neglect their nutrition at this time but diet is important in keeping them physically well and supports positive brain function.
• rest and sleep when they need to.
• take in fresh air and, where possible take some gentle exercise. Even if we have to force ourselves, we always feel that little bit better afterwards. Working thorough grief is physical as well as emotional.
• create rituals for remembering. This helps to hone the love through memory. When we have rituals, we have something positive to focus on that we know we have to do.

If you know a service user is grieving and you feel awkward starting the conversation, its good to start with a question which evokes a happy memory –

• Ask them how they met their special person.
• What was the thing they loved best about them
• What didn’t they like – this usually raises a smile 🙂
• Talk about photos they may have in their room and this will open doors to other significant relationships in their life.
• Talk to the service user about how they themselves would like to be remembered and ask if there are things about their loved ones that they would like to be able to do or loved ones that they can incorporate in their own words, thoughts and actions.

If you find yourself comforting a someone who has suffered a significant loss, remember, don’t jump in straight away with your own experiences. Listening is one of the most important things you can do to help anyone. We are so used to people planning what they are going to say to us when in conversation instead of really listening to what we are saying to them. A good way to do this and to stop your mind wandering is to repeat their words in your head as they say them. If they feel heard, that someone has shared some of their pain, it gives a softness in their grief and they can feel the benefit of sharing a really important emotional communication. Become a truly great listener – it will change your life and could make you very,
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