Saying goodbye to a loved one when they are dying: it’s something that none of us want to have to do, but equally something that we wouldn’t want to go without.

The importance of saying goodbye to a loved one really cannot by underestimated. As part of my role at Independent Age I have the privilege of speaking to older people about a wide range of experiences.

A few years ago I spoke to a number of older people about the traumatic loss of their partner, as part of a research project on bereavement (Good Grief, 2018). I heard first-hand about how the final conversation, the saying goodbye, helped people cope with their grief. They found comfort and reassurance in those words, and would return to them frequently. Nothing could make up for the loss of a lifelong partner and best friend, but the ability to say ‘I love you’ one more time was invaluable.

The current pandemic has brought this vital conversation sharply into focus with many older people and younger people alike denied an opportunity to achieve a degree of closure at what is an immensely difficult time.

“I think of all the families and friends who have lost loved ones during this pandemic who couldn’t be there and those who are yet to face the prospect of not being able to say goodbye - either in hospitals, care homes or at funerals. It’s heart-breaking.”

Penny, Blogger for our Home Truth series

The situation we find ourselves in is necessitating changes to the way we grieve. However, it is imperative that we maximize the opportunities for us to say goodbye to our loved ones, given the immense importance this has in the grieving process.  

We need clear guidance to say goodbye

It was encouraging to hear Matt Hancock highlight the importance saying goodbye to loved ones, in the Government’s daily media briefing on the 15th April. However, despite the positive rhetoric, the headline move to allow families to visit dying relatives in care homes, was actually a repackaging of earlier guidance published on the 2nd April.  

We know from various media outlets that this wasn’t enough for some providers who felt unable to risk allowing people into their care homes. Matt Hancock referenced new processes that would help facilitate these moments with loved ones, but no guidance has followed and in its place we have seen confusion about whether there will be any new guidance at all.

We need PPE to say goodbye

This isn’t simply a case of advice though. We know that to facilitate face to face goodbyes, care providers need PPE. They need it to ensure that other residents in the home are safe and that anyone coming to say goodbye, can do so in a safe way. 

This is not a short-term issue. We need to remember that while facilitating goodbyes is an immediate concern for our Government and our society, it an issue that has lifelong consequences for all those who lose a loved one during this time.

What's next?

You can help us improve the systems that people rely on by joining our campaigns email network (https://www.independentage.org/campaign-signup). We’ll let you know what we’re up to and how you can get involved to help, this would normally be activities like answering a survey, sending an email to your MP or sharing your story with us.

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