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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Room Blessing Death Ritual: Nursing Homes, Long-Term Care, Hospice (Research)


I visited Mandy, my hospice patient, at the nursing home one day and immediately noticed the bed of Della, her roommate for over a year, was stripped of all linens. I knew Della had probably died, and I wondered how Mandy was responding. After extending our usual greetings, I asked Mandy if she knew what had happened to Della. Sadly, she looked down and said, “She’s gone.” I waited to see if she wanted to say more, but she changed the subject. These two women had been close friends I had seen interacting happily many times. I knew Mandy was grieving on some level, and, eventually, we expressed our feelings about Della’s death.

I thought about this incident recently when I read a research article titled “They Don’t Just Disappear: Acknowledging Death in the Long-Term Care Setting." I knew exactly what "they don’t just disappear” meant. In a long-term care setting, death of a resident is not always acknowledged with a formal ritual at the location where staff and residents who knew the deceased can mourn with closure. A room blessing with prayers, songs, and sharing of stories about the loved one who has died can provide great comfort. 

This research describes the value of a room blessing ritual held within a long-term care facility. These are the perspectives of 29 staff, residents, and family members who were interviewed after participating in the ritual. Interview results indicated the following about the room blessing:

     1) Those who attended the room blessing felt they received positive closure and grief relief as a result of the formal acknowledgement of the resident’s death.

2    2) Staff members and residents appreciated the opportunity to connect with family members of the deceased and express their condolences during the ritual.

     3) Participants also liked how inclusive the ritual was with staff, residents, and family reminding one another of their shared grief.

     4) Staff members felt that blessing the room for the new resident was important in helping to bridge the gap between mourning and welcoming a new person.

     5) Staff, residents, and family members felt that the room blessing positively reflected the mission and values of the facility.

     6) The most highly valued aspect of the ritual for all attendees was the sharing of stories about the deceased to celebrate that person's life.

Long-term care facilities that are not using a death ritual to assist staff, residents, and family in their closure needs may want to consider using a room blessing ritual as a means of making the end-of-life care transition easier. After the blessing is over, a card is left behind for the next occupant, explaining the room has been blessed to make it a “welcoming and safe home."

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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