Williamsburg, Va – The bell rang out just as it had many times before. It was time, time for the Riverside Health System team members at Patriots Colony at Williamsburg to say good-bye.

One by one, they made their way toward the retirement community's main hallway where funeral directors gently guided out a gurney. They lined up. Followed it out, creating a procession.

Once outside, they stopped. The nearly 20 team members who had gathered bowed their heads in prayer, tears flowing as the resident they'd come to know and love was loaded into the hearse and driven away.

This is Patriots Colony's Final Farewell ceremony and, as Bobby Hall, a Patriots Colony Security Officer, said, without a doubt "gives us that feeling that we've done the best we could."

A mini-documentary on the Final Farewell was recently completed and released on the Riverside Health System web site during this, National Family Caregivers Month.

Patriots Colony team members may not be family to the residents they care for in the nursing home, assisted living and independent living apartments on its Williamsburg campus. But they become family. And when they die, it hurts.

Residents "came in the front door with their loved ones and were welcomed, and we're saying goodbye to them in a dignified manner as they go out that same door," Patriots Colony Chaplain Janna Roche, added.

Hidden in the simplicity of the Final Farewell ceremony, unique among retirement communities, is more than the deep love and appreciation the healthcare team has for all of its residents. It's a reminder that the healthcare workers that tend to older adults in their final years grow attached. They fall in love. And when residents die, they need to say good-bye, too.

"We find that the Final Farewell is a chance for the staff to stop and say, 'something important happened. Somebody left our community, left this Earth,' and we need to acknowledge that before we continue going about our lives," said Roche.

It's Riverside's mission to treat "others the way we would treat the ones we love," Brian Tenney, the Executive Director of Patriots Colony, said. "We challenged ourselves to do better when it comes to death and dying for our family members and for those that we have served here at Patriots Colony. That's how we came up with the Final Farewell."

The staff of Patriots Colony doesn't want to pretend that death hasn't occurred, but instead uses its Final Farewell ceremony as a way for both families and staff to simultaneously grieve and celebrate lives that were loved by so many.

"To have somebody standing behind—literally behind you—as you take your loved one out, I think that shows people the Riverside Care Difference, because you are treating them as if that was your family member," said Charnelle Vincent, Unit Secretary at Patriots Colony. "You are supporting them. If they need someone to hold their hand, or if they need someone to hug, we do. We stand out there with them as long as they need."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Riverside Health System produced a mini-documentary about the Final Farewell ceremony. Watch it here. Interviews are available with Patriots Colony team members, including the Chaplain, Administrator and Caregivers.


Published: November 26, 2014