Revd Paul Wilson, Methodist minister and associate member of the Christian Council on Ageing Dementia Group writes: Recently, I have been reflecting on the care given to those with dementia at times of bereavement. In conversation, many family members conclude that it would be inappropriate for the dementia sufferer to attend the funeral for a variety of reasons:
These pastoral issues need to be carefully considered without anyone feeling guilty but rather enabling them to feel that they have cared for the one with dementia. The last two bullet points may be overcome by the presence of the principal carer from the residential home or day care.
- The person is too ill.
- The person is not aware that their loved one has died.
- The person's presence would inhibit the family's grieving process.
- The family are afraid of inappropriate behaviour at the funeral.
I now offer a service with the person living with dementia at their home at a suitable time. Where the person has been too ill to attend the funeral but was aware that their loved one had died, it helped the family to have a service at the bedside on the day of the funeral. This involves taking the service sheet, perhaps listening to a tape of the hymns, reading the lesson, showing and talking about pictures and offering prayers. The families feel that their loved one has had the opportunity to grieve, say farewell and experience the pastoral care of God. Continued visits by family and myself have indicated that the one with dementia remembered this.
Where it has taken time for the one with dementia to realise that their loved one has died, I lead a short service in their room when the family consider the time is right. By talking about the spouse, an expression of love and remembrance can be made and confirmation that the loved one has died. Prayers, readings and a shared saying of the Lord's Prayer held the person in the love and care of God. The family were pleased to have shared in a joint act of remembrance and not to have excluded their loved one.
I offer these reflections as a way forward in enabling the one with dementia to grieve. The remembrance may soon be gone, but at the time the person and the family feel that an opportunity for grieving and pastoral care has been given.
If you have any further reflections on good practice I would be privileged to hear of them at email@example.com