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All Saints' Day and Grieving as a Community

Yes, we have funerals when individuals die, and we have a variety of products to memorialize those we have lost, from grave stones to plaques to memorial car decals. Shortly after the funeral, though, we often expect everyone to move on, pretending not to notice the hole that someone else left behind. This is hard enough for the closest friends and relatives of the person who died, but it can be hard, too, for the folks who maybe weren’t the closest friends, but who still feel the loss. This is also hard for people who are around death routinely, including eldercare professionals in every setting and for many older adults.

What if we all took a day once a year to remember all of the people whose lives ended while they were in our care during the past year?

Mourning rituals – remembrance of those who died – can look very different from culture to culture, family to family, and even individual to individual. It might take a few tries to find something that works for you, but here is one idea that parallels the way All Saints Day was remembered in the United Methodist church I grew up in:
  1. Gather everyone together for a moment of silent remembrance. This could happen in the chapel at a specified time, or before a meal, meeting, or popular activity when everyone is already gathered. (Make sure that folks don’t feel obligated to come, though.)
  2. As someone reads the name of each person who died in the last year, another person plays a chime or bell. (Choose something with a beautiful tone.) You could also light a flameless candle for each person or place a flower in a vase or on a special spot for each person.
  3. End with a few words to bring closure to the experience. You could read a short poem, play a song, or say a prayer, depending on the setting.
This moment of remembrance might take only a few minutes, but it can be tremendously powerful in uniting a community and recognizing our communal grief. One word of caution: if you notice someone having a particularly difficult time with this kind of simple ritual, it may be a sign that they need more individualized help dealing with grief or other emotional issues. This is an appropriate time to make a referral to a mental health professional or spiritual care provider. I know that some senior living communities and hospice organizations make a point of holding memorials services for the residents and staff. Is this true for your organization? How do you remember those who have died in your community?]]>

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