How a palliative approach can help older people receiving care at home: A booklet for care workers

9 What is the best way to manage grief and bereavement?

Page last updated: 04 May 2012

Grief is experienced when a loss occurs and includes feelings of unhappiness, pain, guilt, anger and sadness. Bereavement is the reaction to a loss and includes the process of healing or ‘recovery’ from that loss.

Older people and their family carers experience different kinds of losses during the course of the older person’s illness. The older person loses good health and independence. Family carers may have to give up work or seeing their friends. Relationships can change when the older person has dementia because it becomes more difficult to communicate; this can also cause feelings of loss. Later, the older person and their family carer will know that they will soon be separated by the older person’s death. Grieving will almost certainly occur for these losses.

Care workers and others providing care (eg volunteers) may also be affected as the health of the older person for whom they provide care fails and when the death occurs.

Each person will grieve and recover in his or her own way. Common reactions to grief include:

  • feelings of disbelief, confusion, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, guilt and relief
  • sleep disturbances
  • loss of appetite.

What care workers need to know about grief

Will grief ease with time?

Grief is an individual experience. Grief can be experienced in response to illness, or in response to the illness of a family member or friend. Initially, grief is overwhelming and people can feel out of control. With time, people find they have more ability to control their memories and emotions.

Is there a right way and a wrong way of coping with grief?

Everyone experiences grief differently depending on personality and life experiences. There is no right or wrong way to deal with grief. However, support may help recovery.

When is help needed?

Reassurance from others who have also experienced grief can be helpful. An understanding of what other people have commonly undergone when grieving can also help. Those suffering long-lasting intense emotion or obsessive thoughts or behaviours need professional help.

Care workers may be able to help others by suggesting where support may be accessed (as agreed with the supervising health care professional). The resources mentioned in this section may be useful. Care workers may also need support themselves and should be able to access this through their supervising health care professional or from their own GP.

Care workers who have strong fears about the wellbeing of a person who is grieving, or who are concerned that this person might harm themselves, need to ask their supervising health care professional for guidance immediately.

The National Carer Counselling Program (operated by Carers Australia) offers a national carer counselling service.
For more information please visit Carers Australia website.
Telephone: 1800 242 636

Lifeline offers a confidential 24-hour counselling service that may be helpful for people who are distressed.
Telephone: 13 11 14