This week (23-29 May) marks National Palliative Care Week. The week seeks to raise awareness about the many benefits of quality palliative care. Bridget O’Shannassy (General Manager, Mission) from VMCH shares below her insights on the importance of good palliative comfort care.

Anyone who has experienced the loss of someone close to them may remember how the people supporting them through this time made them feel.

The memories of coping with the loss or death can stay with you forever. Ideally, at VMCH we want the families of those who have lived and died with us to look back fondly on how we supported them and their loved ones at this sacred time.

Palliative comfort care is an integral part of the work of our Pastoral Care Services team. Our pastoral carers offer support to our residents, their families and fellow staff and volunteers at our residences at this time of life.

Listening and supporting residents with grief and loss is a major part of the work we do. Many visits with residents and their families are focussed on listening and acknowledging how people are feeling.

We often experience our resident sharing their life stories, and the vulnerability associated with getting older and sometimes questioning - “why do I have to experience this in my life?”, “why is God doing this to me?”, “I feel like giving up”, “I’m tired”, “I am ready to go but my family won’t accept it”.

With supportive care, nurturing and attentive listening often there is peace, acceptance and a sense of lightness with people who share.

The importance of spiritual care through this process cannot be underestimated. During a pastoral care visit with a resident who was in their end stages of life, it was obvious that they were in spiritual distress. They had lingering issues around not seeking the forgiveness of their mother before she had died years ago. The Pastoral Care Practitioner asked the resident if they would like to have a time where they could hold a small ritual asking for forgiveness. The resident agreed to this and a ritual of prayer, music and words of forgiveness were spoken. The resident was very grateful for this time and died peacefully in the following few days.

The Pastoral Care practitioner role can be at times very emotional and demanding of staff. Often there is only one staff member to many residents and families. To support the emotional well-being of our Pastoral Care Practitioners we offer monthly clinical supervision, as a time for the pastoral carer to be companioned and supported in their role. We also offer a retreat day to the pastoral care team for a time to gather, reflect, share, and focus on some self-care often with a focus on grief and loss and personal experiences.

Our Pastoral Care Practitioners and Mission leaders will continue their work with our aged care Residential Service Managers and Care Managers in providing information and support to enable a ‘good death’ experience for our residents. We have recently developed an end of life checklist which clearly states the expectations of staff members, in their role in supporting the residents and their families at this difficult time.

I am very proud of our dedicated team of Pastoral Care Practitioners and the leadership role they take in this space. There is always more that we can do and learn and that is why we will continue to take on the challenge of focusing on ‘doing death well’.