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Support program helps ease the grief of those left behind after voluntary assisted dying

Dying with Dignity Victoria and Griefline have partnered to deliver a free pilot program for people who are preparing for, or have experienced, a loved one’s assisted death.

When Jacqui Hicks and Nicole Robertson’s mum Kerry became the first person to use Victoria’s new voluntary assisted dying (VAD) law, the sisters felt reluctant to access regular grief and bereavement services.

“These are often group sessions," the sisters explained. "The newness and uniqueness of VAD meant we felt reluctant to talk to others about what we had experienced. We felt people might not understand.” 

While those who have been closely involved with VAD describe it as an overwhelmingly positive experience, like any death, when a life ends through VAD there will be complicated emotions. 

Looking after a person with a life-limiting illness is stressful and knowing the person you are caring for is about to die can lead to anticipatory grief. Loved ones may also be at risk of what’s known as disenfranchised griefwhere feelings are not acknowledged or socially supported. 

As a way to support people in Victoria who are preparing for, or have experienced, a loved one’s death through VAD, Dying with Dignity Victoria (DWDV) and Griefline have developed a pilot program of free, online group support.

“These groups will provide a space where people can share openly with other people who can relate to the uniqueness of a VAD death. For example, the unfamiliar emotional task of saying goodbye to someone whose time and date of death is known,” say Melbourne-based death doula and DWDV supporter Nicole Grundy and Jane Nosworthy, DWDV Committee member.

The pilot program, which runs for six weeks and is available to Victorian residents, complements DWDV’s ongoing 1:1 peer support program and includes:

  • 2 x pre-VAD support groups for people facing the death of someone who has chosen to access VAD, and
  • 2 x post-VAD support groups for people seeking group support after the VAD death of a family member or friend.

“As a person with lived experience, I believe that groups like these can play an important role in normalising the experience and also building a sense of community to counter the sense of isolation that people may feel when they're supporting someone through VAD,” Grundy says.

A Griefline counsellor will facilitate the support groups, alongside a DWDV lived experience peer. Each closed group will have a maximum of eight participants. Groups will meet on a weekly basis for six consecutive weeks, online via Zoom.

Find out more about the pilot program here or email [email protected] with any questions.

Read Go Gentle Australia and Grief Australia’s grief and bereavement resource

Other helpful resources: 

Queensland Health’s Support for families, friends, and carers during voluntary assisted dying

Western Australia Health’s Supporting someone through the voluntary assisted dying process

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