When LTC staff becomes a resident’s family

West Lake Terrace LEC Janie Denard reflects on the emotional and learning experiences that come with being a resident’s closest connection

There’s a role long-term-care home staff members play that’s not often talked about, yet it’s a role they play frequently, says Janie Denard. That’s the role of being family to residents who have no relatives.

Janie, the life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) at West Lake Terrace, speaks with fond remembrance as she recalls the story of Jen, a former resident at the Prince Edward County long-term care home.

“Jen didn’t have family – we were her family, she had us,” Janie says.

Janie says having residents who have no family “happens more frequently than we would all like to see,” but when the home does have such residents, staff members always take it upon themselves to make sure the person feels unconditionally loved.

Such was the case with Jen.

“Jen was so well-loved by everybody in the home,” Janie says. “Our staff would spoil her on birthdays, Christmas – any holiday, Jen was always thought of.”

Then Jen’s health began to deteriorate. She started receiving palliative care. During her last couple of months at West Lake Terrace, staff members spent extra time with Jen. They reassured her, they provided supportive conversations, Janie says.

Jen passed away about two weeks ago. Staff members continued to be her family.

“We planned a service, just like we would for any one of our family members,” Janie says.

Staff members made arrangements with a local funeral home. Bob Scrivens, an ordained minister who’s one of West Lake Terrace’s pastoral volunteers, officiated the service West Lake Terrace hosted to honour Jen.

Jen’s roommate wrote a poem for Jen that she read at the service. Janie wrote a eulogy, something she’d never done before for a resident.

One of the most challenging aspects of organizing a memorial service for Jen was the fact that everyone had to improvise and make arrangements based on what they think Jen would have wanted, Janie says.

“It was a unique experience, but it just provided us with so much insight as to how important it is to have those uncomfortable conversations (about final wishes),” she says.

– This is Part 1 of a two-part story.

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