The Grief In Giving End-Of-Life Care

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — As a part of their work, end-of-life care givers endure grief. The type of care they give is intimate—bathing, hand-holding, talking for hours, praying, painting nails, back rubs. The relationship can become close, but then, a few weeks or months later, the resident dies.

Amy Roma, Director of Resident Care at Mercy House of the Southern Tier* in Endicott, is often the first and last person families see at the home for terminally ill people.

“One of the things that I tell the families is, ‘you are going to grieve in your own way’,” Roma said. 

Many people cry, some can’t be in the room at all. Roma said they have had to pry people off their loved ones, while others seem to accept it immediately.

The impact of loss, effect on staff

“I can get through almost anything until it’s all over and I’m all by myself, and then I’ll sit in my room and I’ll cry,” Roma said. “And I’ve cried over more than one resident.”

Laura was once a resident of Mercy House. She was 47 at the time, but was developmentally still a child.

Amy Roma stands next to Christmas tree that honors her former patient, Laura. (Photo Courtesy Amy Roma)

“She knew what she wanted and she had everybody on their toes,” Roma recalled about Laura, who was always quick to say exactly what was on her mind. She and Roma had a playful rapport, but they were also sweet. They would give each other gifts. Roma gave Laura the nightgown she was eventually dressed in when her body was taken to the funeral home.

Laura died on Christmas Eve.

“They had brought her a tree—like a little tree with the flashing lights—and it was in her room for the month of December while she was there,” Roma said. “So, every year since then, we put the tree in that room and we don’t put anyone in it.”

Roma takes a picture of it every year and sends it to Laura’s sister. They keep in touch, and Roma has a connection in her own family to Laura through her grandkids: one has the same birthday and the other is named after Laura’s favorite tennis player, Rafael Nadal.

Hospice at Lourdes* provides residents with hospice care, the volunteers and staff of Mercy House provide comfort. Only a handful of people are admitted to the facility at a time. Five hundred people or so have lived there since it opened in 2016. Roma said every one of the staff has a person to whom they have an especially hard time saying goodbye.

The pot’s always on and we’ll keep the family going

Roma calls end-of-life care a calling. She worked for 30 years as a nurse. She said her dying patients didn’t often have the same support system as patients who would survive.

“It’s a gift to be able to be with someone as they pass. It took a little bit of changing how you think, especially as a nurse.”

The goal of a nurse is to get a person better, but now Roma’s goal is death, a comfortable one. Comfortable for all involved.

Before the pandemic they would wheel what they called a “love cart” around for families after someone died. It has snacks and coffee. Roma likens Mercy House to an Italian household.

“The pot’s always on and we will just keep that family going.”

*Lourdes and Mercy House have both been financial supporters of WSKG.