How to cope with the loss of a client

When a resident in one of our community houses passes away, the impact on the other residents and staff is often profound. Our support workers are in a unique position when a client dies in that they are not only grieving themselves, but they are continuing to provide a personal service and the stressors associated with their work may affect their own journey of adapting to the loss of a client. Here we look at how to respond to people who are grieving, while also managing your own feelings of loss.

Common reactions to loss

The loss experience affects a person on a physical, behavioural, cognitive and emotional level. Physically people may experience changes in appetite or sleep disturbances while behaviourally people may become aggressive or withdrawn. Sometimes people can doubt themselves, need significant reassurance and find decision making difficult. Cognitively people may be distracted and find it difficult to concentrate and follow conversations. In addition, grieving people experience a range of emotions including self blame and guilt (“I could have..” “I should have..”) or fear of getting through the day alone (“What will I do now…”). Anger, anxiety, helplessness and hopelessness are also commonly felt by those who have lost a loved one.


The experiences described above are all common reactions and do not indicate that someone may not be coping. However, when we see someone struggling our natural instinct is to help them get back on their feet. The best way to assist a grieving person is to be their companion. Sit with them, learn from them, listen to them from your heart, don’t analyse with your head. Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggle of others, it’s not about directing those struggles. People will find their own way, simply let them guide you. Essentially all you need to do is use your active listening skills to let them tell their story and though this they will adapt to the change in their circumstances.


Learning to accept that we do NOT get over a loss, but learn to live with the loss experience, can assist individuals in accepting their grief response as a journey and allowing us to join them as a companion along the way.

If you have concerns for your client’s well-being, please let them know Independence Australia offers a counselling and psychology service for people with a disability. Click here for more information.