We live in a culture that has lost touch with the realities of death. Where traditionally families and communities around the world, and throughout time, have cared for their own dead, we now most often hand over the care of our deceased loved ones to paid funeral professionals. However, as nurses who have journeyed with dying people and their families, we know how precious and transformative this hands-on after-death care can be.
In homes, hospices, and hospitals, family and friends can be gently invited to offer care for their loved one’s body after death, with the simple gift of a washcloth. With a warm cloth in hand, families are given the opportunity to provide care naturally and instinctively. Gently wiping the face and hands of a loved one who has died can be a profoundly healing, final act of love and care, as it nurtures a continuing bond, and initiates a healthy grief process.
Families who have had the opportunity to be with, and provide hands-on care for a loved one after death - even if only briefly, and in circumstances of unexpected or traumatic death - reflect afterward on how meaningful these moments were for them. Often difficult, often sad, but always profound, and never regretted.
“We loved him to the end.” “We did everything for her that we could, even after she died.” “It was hard, but I’m so glad that we stayed with him.” “It took a while to sink in. I’m not sure it would have, if I hadn’t been with her.”
Families talk about how important these final acts of love and care were, in their understanding of the reality of the death, in their grieving, and in their eventual healing. The tool, the silent invitation, was a simple, comforting cloth.
As well, in our experience, those who provide care in healthcare settings are often unsure of how to express their empathy, condolences, and personal grief after the death of a client. One Washcloth provides a way for caregivers to express their condolences through a tangible gift, while simultaneously inviting families into meaningful and healing care of their loved one after death. We hope that this opportunity for caring engagement will be healing and transformative, not only for grieving families and caregivers, but for our society as a whole, as we become more comfortable with death, and its place in the circle of life.
One Washcloth gift bags contain a soft washcloth, and are wet-proof, so that the cloth can be brought home after use, even if it remains wet. Alternatively, hospitals and hospices may wish to source their own washcloths independently (to give to families, with or without a gift bag). One Washcloth offers an instructional gift tag that can be attached to any washcloth or gift set. It reads:
This cloth is a gift.
Please use it to care for your loved one who has died, as a final act of love.
You may use it to gently wash the face, hands, and body of your loved one, as you would have in life.
Follow your instincts. There is no “right” way. There is no rush.
You may keep this cloth as a reminder of the tender care you gave at the end.
One Washcloth is a charitable organization that promotes the healing potential of caring for loved ones after death.