Managing grief through palliative care, a global call for solidarity and unity

September 20, 2022 | Press Releases

Saturday, 8 October is World Hospice Palliative Care Day 2022 (WHPCD2022). An annual awareness day, this year is particularly poignant in light of the pandemic filled years that we’ve all endured as well as the socio-economic and political volatility that the globe is experiencing. This has led to levels of unprecedented global grief and the World Hospice Palliative Care Association has announced that their theme for 2022 will be healing hearts and communities.

The Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA) launched their WHPC2022 campaign on the 21st September. Focusing on the theme of grief, the campaign asks every person who has experienced grief, whether personally or in solidarity with another, to wear a ribbon on their right wrist. “The last few years have been grief filled.  For everyone. Globally, there are billions of ‘the walking wounded’. And we are all grieving. There are those that are facing life-threatening diagnoses, and there are those that are grieving both literal and emotional deaths,” says Dr Ewa Skowronska, CEO of the HPCA. “But there is hope. We can help each other to heal hearts and communities.”

“Palliative care is frequently understood as only the management of a person’s living journey in the face of terminal disease until their death, by bringing them a measure of comfort and dignity in the process. Palliation certainly does this, but it encompasses so much more,” says Dr Aslam Dasoo, newly appointed Chairman of the board of the HCPA. “It is also a medical and psycho-social scientific discipline. It offers insights to society about the wider necessity of palliative care for those with life-threatening illness.

”Bereavement encompasses grief, the evolutionary mechanism that helps all sentient beings to not only process the pain of the loss of loved ones, but to also enfold memory into their consciousness in order to allow them to continue with the life journey we all have to complete,” said Dr Dasoo. “This essential instinct does not always manifest, especially in times of mass deaths, as we witnessed during the pandemic. This often leaves survivors without the necessary closure and burdened by persistent and often debilitating sorrow.”

Author of The Grief Handbook, Bridget McNulty says: “We’re all so awkward about grief. But we need to bring it to the surface – it’s the one thing we are all guaranteed to experience in life. The ribbons in the HPCA campaign communicate the individual nature of grief… people can wear any colour, any size, any shape – tied however they wish. Just like grief: there’s no right or wrong way to do it. We all go through it, and it looks different for every individual. This campaign is so powerful because it externally communicates what we all know we’re going through. And gives a little reminder to be kind to others on the same journey.”

“The theme for this year’s World Hospice Palliative Care Day complements our own focus on growing societies’ courage to heal”, says Janet Jobson, CEO of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, “The Arch, as he so loved being known, was a founding patron of HPCA almost 40 years ago now. He was a fierce advocate for access to palliative care and dignified dying as a human right. For these reasons the Tutu Legacy Foundation supports the call to people in South Africa to wear a ribbon on their right wrist on Saturday, 8 October – to honour our grief; individual and collective.”

“The palliative care sector in South Africa has played an enormous role in the last few years,” says Lawrence Mandikiana, the Deputy Director at the National Department of Health who is responsible for coordinating the roll-out of palliative care across the country. “Hospices cared for Covid-19 patients, conducted screenings and played a pivotal role in supporting healthcare facilities during the pandemic. There is a renewed focus on and commitment to the sector in South Africa, with an increased recognition of the role that palliative care plays in healthcare. That of support for anyone with a life-threatening diagnosis, and their loved ones.”

“Grief has profound emotional and spiritual effects, but also affects individuals’ mental and physical health,” says Dr Skowronska. “Many people, even some in the medical profession, don’t fully appreciate that grief can be accompanied by very real, and sometimes debilitating symptoms of neurological, musculo-skeletal, gastro-intestinal and immunological origin, making them susceptible to further illness, or even exacerbate symptoms in people with chronic health conditions.

“Approximately 7% of people experiencing loss suffer from ‘complicated grieving’, which is accompanied by the continued, persistent and unresolving feeling of grief, rendering them unable to function normally and inducing symptoms of clinical depression,” she warns.

“Bereavement is an indication of having loved. We want the public to know that, whilst grief is inescapable, there is support via hospices and other institutions. Bereavement is a necessary life journey to navigate, but there is no reason to navigate it alone. It is our hope that World Hospice Palliative Care Day will spread a sense of solidarity, support and common humanity across the country,” said Ms Tersia Burger, Vice-Chairman of the HPCA Board.

“We are honoured to work in the palliative care sector,” says Dr Dasoo “To be able to provide support to anyone with life-threatening illness, to provide them with dignity and the best possible quality of care and to support their loved ones is at once a healthcare discipline and a gift.”

The HPCA calls on all South Africans to join us on the 8th of October in showing solidarity with those experiencing grief from the loss of loved ones and to support the palliative care centres in providing essential care to those nearing the end of their life’s journey.

Ribbons are available via hospices for purchase, and all funds go to the hospices that the ribbons are purchased from. For a full list of participating hospices, visit: https://hpca.co.za/world-hospice-and-palliative-care-day/.

The HPCA supports 92 hospice members in South Africa and if you’d like to contribute to their advocacy and education efforts, it is easy to affect a recurring donation via their donation page: https://hpca.co.za/monthly-donations/.