The response for most people in hearing the news of an unexpected death is shock. Disbelief that the death is true; as if it’s all a bad dream, emotions of anger and grief may quickly follow. We will all have an emotional response but how this is displayed will differ from person to person, the relationship to the person who has died and the circumstances of the death. These experiences and emotions were certainly true for me and my family when my only sister was killed over 20 years ago. We fumbled through this roller coaster of time and made decisions while being embraced in an uninvited fog.
There are some very important and practical things that can assist at this time for the bereaved and the process of bereavement .
Immediate things to consider in first hours, days or weeks
Keeping safe – when shock occurs a person is more likely to make mistakes such as driving erratically/dangerously or harming themselves doing household tasks such as burns while cooking or spilling the kettle.
Basic needs of food & shelter – have they got enough food and liquids (non alcoholic), a warm/cool house to be in and are comfortable when trying to rest/sleep.
Responsibilities and dependants – are there children, parents and pets to be cared for and/or work commitments to be inform of the bereavement.
Providing basic information – to help the person make sense of the situation this it is best done in a calm and clear manner in amounts that they can receive. It’s worth remembering that information may need to be repeated several times.
Inclusion in what is happening and decision making – this can be big and overwhelming. Decisions around the funeral/EOL celebration, viewing the body, who to notify or invite, what sort of service to have, music, readings etc. Generally there are 40 plus decisions to be made in arranging a funeral and often in a short timeframe. This vulnerable time can result in making decisions or accepting ideas and suggestions that haven’t been really understood and considered.
Awareness and sensitivity of any pre-existing life situations – family vulnerabilities can be heightened at this time. Awareness of any family dynamics, illnesses, violence, substance issues need to be considered with sensitivity.
All of these considerations and the care of a bereaved person/s can be done anyone, but not everyone can rise to that role. Some families have a natural caring organised “go to” person who can hold this space, but that can also be a big ask as they need to be cared for too. A care professional such as an End Of Life Doula can be the person to hold the space at this time. They can be there for the bereaved and also support the “go to” person. They can be the eyes and ears for the situation and considerations while leading and responding gently and calmly. Equally as important is being an advocate, a voice to ensure decisions are made that are right for the bereaved and that honour the deceased in their own unique way.