Charles Cowling

A while back, Claire Callender talked about what it’s like, as an undertaker, to ‘remove’ (industry term) a dead body from a care home. It’s something I talked about a lot yesterday with a friend who has an especially beautiful mind. It’s something he frets about, often talks about, something we both mean to do some research into.

The very idea that death in a care home should be so widely regarded as a catastrophe is bonkers. Obviously. The fact that residents are subject to a protective lockdown so that the corpse-handlers can get on with their furtive work is shameful. And shaming. Of the undertakers, too—what does all this hole-and-corner stuff say about them? Jayzus, if a retirement community can’t get its head around something as routine as its membership expiring on a regular and perfectly natural basis, who can?

Why, my friend likes to ask, can the staff not tell everyone what’s happened so that those who want can pop in and say goodbye and/or line up at the front door and applaud as their friend is borne away? Can death not be integrated into the life of a care home, not quarantined? We’re talking natural causes here, not Ebola.

Cannot the dead person drop into the care home for half an hour or so on the way to her funeral so that those too infirm to make it to the crem can have a farewell do for her?

There must be care homes that make a much better fist of this than most—who have healthy rituals to deal with the event. I’ve no idea if any care staff read this blog, or hospice workers. I do know that a number of funeral directors do.

Because what my friend and I would like to know is: Do you know of anywhere that handles the death of a resident in an emotionally healthy way? What do they do? How do they do it?

Please, if you have a moment, type your thoughts and stories into the comment box below. We’d be very grateful.

Thank you!

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6 years ago

I worked for MHA a few years back as a care assistant and found the attitude towards death to be healthy. Residents would have their photo displayed in the foyer announcing their death along with a poem or quote. At lunch time the senior on duty would announce the death and read a poem or say a prayer. It was touching and gave everyone a chance to think about the resident and the time spent with them. The home I work for now hides the death completely. Ship em’ in and ship em’ out. They are taken through corridors where… Read more »


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11 years ago

I want this funeral director as my financial adviser! Following the logic that a bank account never empties, I would be rich forever and ever. Got his number?


David Barrington
11 years ago

Dear Charles, There is a group of care homes in the UK who have a truly forward thinking and positive approach to the end of life. This is the MHA Group. They have a policy called The Final Lap Programme which is where they set out their aims for their residents who are at the end of their lives. I chatted to a colleague about this organisation recently and was astounded to hear that when somebody dies in their care during the night they do not run to the phone to pull the Funeral Director in and another person vanishes… Read more »

Rupert Callender
11 years ago

Pat, That is so heartening to here, how brilliant. I am sending this to several hospice staff we know here in the UK to get their response. I haven’t heard of any hospice in Briatin doing this.

Pat McNally
11 years ago

Dear Charles, I have good news to report from the states. Even though most nursing homes and hospitals here still try to hide death from residents, and require undertakers to slip in through loading docks and such, there have been great strides made by hospice. In the inpatient Hospice centers in Madison, WI, Portland, OR and, I’m sure, many other places, a procession tradition has been implemented. The deceased are covered in a quilt, often with their faces exposed, as staff and family walk with the deceased and the undertaker, out through the public areas of the center. Very often… Read more »