Why self-care is important for carers as well as the suddenly bereaved

Following a sudden death there must be a primary focus on the care and support of those who have been bereaved, but it’s important those caring for them look after themselves too. In this blog, Caroline Perry discusses why self-care is important, and how carers can both help ensure bereaved people are cared for and take care of their own wellbeing too.

If you’re caring for someone who has been suddenly bereaved, it’s important that you not only ensure that person is taken care of, but also that you take care of yourself. During the COVID-19 pandemic this is more important than ever, with social distancing, restrictions and lockdowns meaning many of us don’t have access to our usual support systems.

Whether you’re a family member, friend, neighbour or professional, you are undertaking an important role supporting someone at a very sad time, through an experience that can be challenging; even more so during a pandemic.

Many suddenly bereaved people want face-to-face support, or to hug other loved ones, but during a pandemic this may not be possible if you aren’t self-isolating with them. However there are ways you can provide support and comfort through phone calls, video calls or simply regular messages, depending on how the bereaved person would prefer to be contacted.

It’s also possible to check that someone’s basic care needs are being met, and to spot warning signs, even if you’re supporting them remotely. Gentle questioning may help you be assured that they are ok, or to identify things they need help with.

It’s important to check they have access to food and money to look after themselves. If they need help, for example with shopping or making meals, this might be something you can help with, or you could find support for them from local organisations, for example organisations that deliver meals to people.

You can also check whether they have a network of family and friends who can support them, and check on their health, for example do they feel well, unwell or sound as though they are poorly.

If something concerns you, you should do something. If you work or volunteer for an organisation, report your concerns to your manager. If you aren’t linked to an organisation, seek medical help or help from a relevant government agency.

If the person says they don’t want help, but it is clear to you they may need help, it is important to seek it. A person’s safety is the most important thing.

Supporting someone who has been suddenly bereaved can also be upsetting for you if you’re providing support. Try to be aware of your own needs and feelings during this time. If you look after yourself, you can look after others, better.

It is important to make time for yourself and have a self-care plan. Include spending some time doing your favourite things, such as reading, cooking, listening to music or doing some meditation or yoga. Make time to be by yourself, or with others you love who are around you at this time.

Only offer support you can reasonably give, and consider in advance who can support you, when you may need support. Find out about other support services too, so that you can access extra support for the bereaved person if needed and/or find a service that allows you to step back when you need to.

Find more information on supporting someone bereaved at this time of pandemic, and taking care of yourself.

About the author

Caroline Perry is the New Zealand director for Brake, the road safety charity. As a Brake member of staff she is also involved in supporting the work of Sudden. Sudden is a global initiative to help people bereaved by any sudden cause and also to help the professional standards of their carers. Brake is a road safety charity providing the National Road Victim Service in the UK for families bereaved by death on the road, including an acclaimed and government-backed national helpline and information service. Brake also operates globally and has a domestic branch in New Zealand.