Barbara Carroll
Grief and Bereavement Specialist

As I read about the deaths at Country Haven my heart breaks for the trauma and complicated grief so many in our community are experiencing and will continue to experience for some time.  This is true for all frontline workers but those at Country Haven have experienced multiple COVID-19 deaths within our community.

I feel for the residents.  Country Haven has been their home and the staff have become part of their extended families. And now they are not safe in their home, they are frightened and/or very ill. Apart from the wonderful window visits with family members they are apart from their families and faced with having to hear their loved ones say goodbye over the phone. They are not alone, though, they are there with the staff they know and trust, and those staff members are going above and beyond to give full compassionate end of life care.

I also feel for the families of the residents. It is good to have a window visit but there is nothing like being with their loved ones, to hold their hands, comfort them, read to them, feed them.   The families can no longer give the kind of care that was of great benefit to their loved one, a huge help to the staff, and that provided comfort to them. If they have a loved one who dies of COVID-19 the families are not able to be there, holding, comforting, and loving their family member. While it is very difficult to see a loved one die, is also very meaningful to be there and to know what the end was like. When COVID-19 removes the choice to be there at the end, families’ grief becomes more complicated and is likely to be somewhat longer and harder than would otherwise be.

In addition to feeling for the residents at Country Haven and their families, I truly ache for the staff who work there. Their job is hard enough at the best of times and it is now almost impossible, and yet they are doing it and by all accounts doing it well.  I know we are all concerned about the toll it is taking on them. They are seeing multiple people die in a very short period of time. These are not people who came into the hospital last week for care, these are people the staff have known and taken care of. The residents are people they have grown to love. They are now dealing with multiple major losses that are both professional and personal. At the moment they are knuckling down and getting on with the job but, when this crisis eases, they will experience grief, and grief complicated by the number of losses and, by the trauma of the sudden, incomprehensible havoc of the invisible enemy that is COVID-19.

As I comprehend the extent of the tragedy at Country Haven, my heart is so warmed by the community response to them.  It is well deserved, and it is there.   Our ongoing support at this time is critically important for the mental well-being of those who work at Country Haven. They are on the front lines of a war with an invisible virus and, at the end, they have the same needs soldiers in the military have when returning from war.  The fact is that soldiers who are recognized as heroes when they come home are better able to process the trauma they have experienced. When soldiers returned from Vietnam to a society that ignored them, ridiculed them, and criticized them the incidence of long term post-traumatic stress skyrocketed.  he community is recognizing all frontline workers as heroes.   Let’s keep saying those words and showing that to the staff at Country Haven.  It will help them through the trauma of their COVID-19 experience.