A Ceremony to Acknowledge the Death of a Resident

Posted by Dr. El - August 4, 2010 - End of life, Inspiration, Something Good About Nursing Homes - 11 Comments

William Losefsky, Director of Safety, Security & Emergency Management for the New Hampshire State Veterans Home contributed today’s post. I found it very touching, and I’d like to hear more ways in which nursing homes acknowledge the loss of their residents. If you have a ceremony you’d like to share with MBNH readers, please email it to me via the Contact Me button, or add it to the Comments section at the bottom of this post.

The Final Salute: One long-term care facility’s strategy to say farewell with dignity and respect
Imagine sitting down to breakfast and then noticing that one of your fellow residents is not sitting in his customary spot at the breakfast table. That is when fellow residents would first find out that one of their comrades had passed away. Earlier in the evening the resident had expired and was shuttled out the freight loading dock into a waiting hearse. This was how the death process was dealt with before we instituted the “Final Salute” protocol.
The New Hampshire Veterans Home felt that the resident was welcomed through the front door as a new admission and he should go out that same front door on his final departure. We then worked on coming up with a process that is now known as the “Final Salute.”
We put together a process in which we place an American flag over the gurney of a deceased resident. We then escort the body and lead the deceased resident to our common area by the dining room. The residents are called to attention by the resident council president. We created a short final prayer that is read:
(Resident’s Name) is now leaving the veterans home on his/her heavenly departure. May (Resident’s Name) now rest in peace. We thank you for your honorable service to your country in it’s time of need.
We then salute the deceased resident and the resident counsel president chants “two” and a uniformed security officer escorts the body down the elevator to the main entrance of the facility. The American flag is then removed from the deceased resident prior to being loaded into the funeral director’s vehicle and the flag is then ceremoniously folded and prepared for further service. We announce over the public address system that the resident has passed and we ask for a moment of silence as we ring a brass bell 3 times in somber remembrance of the resident.
Many of our residents pass away at a hospital. We designed a plan for that as well. If the resident passes away from the facility we continue to have the procession walk. Instead of escorting the deceased resident’s gurney, the security officer carries a crisp folded American flag. The security officer walks the length of the hall and stops at the exact location as if the body was at rest. The same exact ceremony is conducted with the security officer holding the flag in symbolic remembrance of the resident.
We slowly integrated having the escorting security officer wear white gloves. Many of our officers keep their shoes and boots at a high level of readiness as General George S Patton was well known for saying “You are always on parade.”
This “Final Salute” protocol has been extremely well received by the residents as they now have proper closure in saying good bye to their comrade in arms. The final salute was recognized in the Quality of Life Award in New Hampshire and was given a standing ovation.
The first time we did this, we were amazed at the military bearing that a 90-year old wheelchair-bound war veteran was able to muster. Many stood up from their wheel chairs and others had to use two hands to snap a salute due to a stroke. It greatly moved the staff as well as the residents and visitors. All we could think of is that we should have been doing this sooner.
A long-term care facility is the last home a person will have and their passing should be something more than a ride through a loading dock. My intent is for others involved in long-term care to read this article about the Final Salute in the hopes that other facilities might take up the practice in honoring their residents who pass. The process does not have to be as elaborate as ours and can build over time. I would suggest involving the residents and the resident council as much as possible.
William R Losefsky CHPA, CMI, CPM, CIRM
Director of Safety, Security & Emergency Management
New Hampshire State Veterans Home
139 Winter Street
Tilton, NH 03276-0229