Seasons for Growth Program Providing Grief Support for Staff at Calvary Cessnock

Calvary Retirement Communities focuses on holistic palliative and end of life care which encompasses supporting the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of aged care residents, their families and their carers.

National Palliative Care Week, held this year from 22-28 May, is supported by the Department of Health and aims to raise awareness and understanding about palliative and end of life care in Australia. The theme for this year’s week is ‘You matter. Your care matters. Palliative care can make a difference’. Palliative Care Australia emphasises that “people in aged care often have more than one chronic illness which affects their health in different ways. Palliative care can help manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life”.

To acknowledge the importance of palliative end of life care, Calvary Retirement Communities has introduced new initiatives, including the ‘Seasons for Growth’ staff education program.

This pilot initiative, run for Calvary Cessnock staff by external party Good Grief is an innovative grief and loss education program that uses the metaphor of the seasons to illustrate the experience of grief. It strengthens the social and emotional wellbeing of adults, children and young people who are dealing with significant life changes by exploring the impact of change and loss on every-day life and learning new ways to respond to those changes.

Pastoral Care Coordinator Andrew Mead and Pastoral Care Worker Sally Lavis focus on palliative and end of life care as a key component of their roles and are highly involved in the program.

Andrew has been working at Calvary Cessnock for the past 18 months. His role involves facilitating and overseeing the provision of pastoral care and supporting the 250 residents and their families, and over 300 staff. Andrew explains “A significant amount of my time is spent in providing grief and loss support to residents and their families. A major focus of our care is the provision of a compassionate, empathic presence, listening deeply to people’s emotional distress”.

Sally works alongside Andrew and has been working in pastoral care for 3 years. “Spiritual care and emotional support of our residents is what we do. Accompanying them to find and express what gives them meaning and purpose in their life is important in their last chapter” said Sally.

Andrew said “One of the most confronting elements of working in aged care is the degree of grief and loss we are exposed to. The Seasons for Growth program is a 3-hour workshop on grief and loss. Its premise is that in everyone’s lives we experience change and loss, but most of us simply don’t understand the impact. The workshop explores how change, loss, grief and behaviour are all linked, and that by understanding this, we can make sense of our own experience of grief and loss”.

Sally continues “The program is very interactive, very gentle, and designed as an educational experience rather than a time for personal sharing. It ends with an exploration of how we can each be empowered in the face of grief and loss, and the importance of self-care. So far, we’ve presented the program to 100 staff, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We hope this will make a very real difference for staff in relation to their own experiences of grief and loss, particularly in the workplace”.

Andrew and Sally are passionate about supporting residents and their families through their palliative and end of life journey as residents approach and reach the end of life. Andrew explains “At the very heart of pastoral care is a relationship of offering someone who is suffering a compassionate and empathic presence. We allow the person to express their emotional pain without judging or advising. Palliative care is a whole new depth of caring. We journey with the person as they face new fears, anxieties, regrets and hopes that are raised in the light of their last chapter”.