Helping Aides Cope with the Loss of Their Clients

A client at the end of her life and placed on hospice requested that her beloved caregiver, Anna, sit by her side throughout the night.

The hospice nurse had directed the caregiver in ways to keep Mrs. Smith comfortable. As time passed and the client declined, she was less able to communicate with Anna.

The caregiver became more and more frustrated. After all, she had been trained to give care and not withhold necessities such as food.

How to support this caregiver as she anticipated the loss of Mrs. Smith became a team effort. The team rallied round Anna as our agency’s staff social worker and the caregiver’s supervisors provided support and counsel.

Our caregivers are trained to care for their clients, to assist in improving their quality of life as they nurture and comfort. It is often, as in this context, that they may feel that they are failing when the person they have cared for is dying or has died.

Many times caregivers develop an extremely close bond with their clients – often as close or a closer as the client might have with her family. The aides may be spending longer hours with clients than their families and friends are able.

Too often, we forget about the intensity of these relationships and the feelings associated with these losses. We must recognize that feelings of guilt or anger may be felt by the caregiver when this loss occurs. Could they or others have done more to help this client during this illness?

It is expected and accepted that the families and friends are permitted to mourn the loss of a loved one. But what about the home health aides?  How may we encourage their expression of their loss, validate their needs and help them cope during this period?

~ Janet Pincu, MSW, LCSW, CALA