*Excerpt from our soon-to-be published book: Journey’s End, 3 years in the making and currently just out of the copyediting stage!*
Death of Clients: What I have Learned
I have had the privilege of working with seniors/older adults for seventeen years as a case manager and group facilitator. Before I started working with older adults, I had very little knowledge of seniors and their needs. My previous work experience had been with youth and families, and I certainly had no experience in the area of death with clients. My death experience was that of family members.
I remember the first day I volunteered with a social worker who was facilitating a group specifically for Holocaust Survivors. Would they like me? Would they accept me? Would they ask me if I was Jewish or not, and if they did, would they mind that I had converted? Could I do this?
I had little to worry about. I was accepted right away. The fact that I converted, such acceptance and yes, I could do it!
Six months later I was hired as a case manager to work with older adults and co-facilitator of the group that was specifically for Holocaust Survivors.
The group members and I have been through quite a bit together over the years. They have seen me pregnant with both my kids; they have met my kids a few times over the years. They have shared the joyful times in their lives of grandchildren, great-grandchildren born, bar and bat mitzvahs, marriages, and anniversaries with me, but we have also shared and journeyed together through death: death of their family and friends, death of fellow group members, and death of my family members.
When I first started with this group, membership was close to sixty attending weekly. Seventeen years later, membership is around twenty-five to thirty. Many have left the group because of health reasons, moving to residences or long-term care, moved out of the area to be with family, and many have died.
I have attended more than my share of client funerals. I have visited clients in the hospital if they were open to it when they were ill or palliative. I have written many condolence cards to their family members.
At the same time death is happening, I realize this group has taught me so much. Think of all they have witnessed and lived through during the Holocaust and how many family and friends they lost to death; how much death they witnessed and how their lives were, and are, forever changed. They survived horrible situations, whether in ghettos, work camps, death camps, in Russia, in hiding, and some were on death marches, but they left Europe to come to Canada and other countries to start over, to raise families, and to be a part of Canadian society. They had hope.
They (Holocaust Survivors) have not let their war experiences define them. They have taught me acceptance, love, hope, to move on with your life, and to advocate for those less fortunate; and for that, I am forever grateful.
*I am co-authoring this book with Julie Saeger Nierenberg. Our contributors to this book totals over 50 individuals, and we are forever grateful to all of them for sharing in this journey with us.*
**This was first published: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/death-client-have-you-experienced-how-did-youor-would-brewster-msw