Reflection Room: Exploring Pandemic-Related Grief in Long-Term Care Homes

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The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a great deal of collective loss and grief that requires attention and support. This was as true in residential long-term care (LTC) homes, which continue to experience challenges related to the pandemic, as it was in hospitals and among the general public.

Through the Reflection Room project, our interdisciplinary team of researchers is partnering with LTC homes in Ontario to create physical spaces to pause, reflect, connect and grieve.

Many LTC household communities have been severely impacted by COVID-19. Adding to the stress of COVID-19 infections and deaths, staff have experienced burnout and low morale, and some homes in outbreaks must continue to restrict residents’ movements, isolating them in their rooms, and limiting activities such as social functions to reduce risk. of spread

Many people within these communities have reflected on the trauma the pandemic has caused. The final report of the Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission has recommended reforms and advisory services. However, with the immense levels of pain and feelings of helplessness, regret and sadness, there is also a need for innovative and timely support for LTC communities.

reflection rooms

A reflection card written by a visitor to a Reflection Room.
(SE Research Center), Author provided

Reflection Rooms are evidence-based participatory art installations created in 2016 by the SE Research Center, led by Paul Holyoke of the Center and Barry Stephenson of Memorial University of Newfoundland. The goal of the project is to help people in healthcare and community settings talk about dying and dying by providing an immersive space for visitors to read stories written by others and to write and share their own stories.

An upcoming research study evaluated the impact of 62 Reflection Room installations in Canada between 2016 and 2020. We found that the installations created a space to express emotions such as love and regret, and to make sense of experiences related to death and death. death.

This included making sense of the mystery of mortality, dying, and death, and feeling that connections to memories or what the participants called spirit can continue after physical death.

Adaptation during the pandemic

During the pandemic, the Reflection Room project was adapted to address experiences of loss and grief in LTC households in Ontario. In this evolution of the project, LTC homes have an easy-to-install kit that includes instructions and materials at no cost. These materials include items such as reflection cards, a red curtain to display the cards, and candles. The kit ensures that each LTC home can fit the Reflection Room into the available space, creating opportunities for quiet and reflection. Reflection Rooms have been installed in 27 LTC ​​homes across Ontario.

A young woman in a robe sitting with an older woman, holding her hand.
Visitors to the Reflection Room included long-term care staff, residents and caregivers, all of whom have been affected by grief in the context of COVID-19.

Based on 68 surveys completed by visitors to the Reflection Room, including LTC staff, residents, and caregivers, we believe that these facilities offer an opportunity to overcome grief in the context of COVID-19.

Reflection rooms provide an environment where people can look inward in a helpful way, experience calm and peace, and develop a sense of connection and compassion for others. These elements — finding a quiet place, reflecting, writing and allowing emotions to surface — are all part of grief work, according to Canadian Virtual Hospice, which provides support and information on end-of-life and palliative care, loss and grief.

Most of the people who completed the surveys recommend that other LTC households have a Reflection Room. Many said that the project can help those who are grieving and that it is important because it provides a place of rest and self-reflection, and has the potential to support the holistic well-being of individuals and communities.

Some visitors to LTC Reflection Rooms commented:

“It’s a coping mechanism, a place to share the pain and see how others are feeling, maybe get advice on how to cope and move on.” – Caregiver

“Some people can’t ‘talk’ about what’s really on their mind, but they find it easier to write about it.” – Resident

“It became a moving and meaningful space.” – LTC home staff

Grief experiences can include a variety of emotions that come and go in unpredictable ways, such as anger, joy, numbness, and anguish. Acknowledging and naming grief can be an important step in processing loss in a healthy and transformative way.

In research on grief and bereavement, studies have found that storytelling has an affirming and healing effect on the storyteller and those who listen to the stories. The Reflection Room project does this by providing the opportunity to acknowledge pain, feel less alone, and externalize pain through storytelling.

The Reflection Room has evolved to respond to personal and social needs related to loss and bereavement. A constant throughout the project is that the Reflection Rooms offer visitors the opportunity to slow down, work on processing their pain, and feel a sense of connection and solidarity with others.

This article was written in collaboration with Neeliya Paripooranam, Reflection Room Project Manager.

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