Stress is everywhere. The pandemic exacerbated this problem — from health issues to lost income to strained relationships, this has been a year like no other. Despite evolving crisis challenges, however, the American Institute of Stress notes that the death of a loved one or spouse still takes top spot as the most stressful event individuals and families can endure.1 Hospice providers play a critical role in the patient-centered care that leads up to their final days, and offer invaluable guidance for families navigating this incredibly difficult time.
But hospice care doesn’t end with the passing of a patient. Post-bereavement follow up care is critical to ensure that family members have the right supports in place to help them with one of the most difficult life experiences. With hospice providers increasingly under pressure to provide more service, more quickly to more patients, however, it’s easy to see these post-patient calls as simply routine, in turn reducing their emotional efficacy.
Here are three tips to help cultivate compassion when checking in with bereaved hospice families.
Be Compassionate and Specific in Open Conversations
A recent research paper focused on caring for bereaved family members suggests connecting with grieving individuals within a week after the patient’s passing.2 This quick connection lays the groundwork for compassion, but requires more than simply generic sentiment to deliver desired outcomes.
Hospice teams are best-served by ensuring they’re equipped with specific patient information before making bereavement calls. While staff memories of patient interactions provide the starting point for an open dialogue, robust hospice software systems that offer on-demand access to patient documentation can help pinpoint key talking points.
Help Shift Perspective and Redirect Negative Thoughts
It’s easy for bereaved family members to find themselves stuck in a rut when loved ones pass on — they may struggle to maintain familiar life routines or hold on to negative thinking patterns. Here, hospice staff can shift perspective by redirecting unhelpful thoughts and suggesting potential coping strategies.
Consider the bereaved spouse struggling with feelings of both loss and guilt. Hospice staff can help redirect negative thought processes by asking them what advice they would offer a friend facing their situation to help break maladaptive grief patterns. Staff can also shift the discussion to self-care with encouragement for family members to check in with their doctors, maintain existing social connections and consider a celebration of life when they’re ready.
Offer Structural Support and Grief Resources
Hospice teams can also help families navigate grief with suggestions of structural support, both before and after the passing of their loved ones. For example, many hospices are now partnering with “death doulas” that specialize in preparing both patients and their families for eventual loss. Post-bereavement, hospice staff can direct families to specific grief and loss resources — such as those offered by the American Counseling Association — to help guide their grief journey.3
The loss of a loved one is devastating, and subsequent grief cannot be avoided — only endured. Hospice providers can help bereaved families better navigate this new reality by cultivating compassion with regular check-ins, actionable advice and structural supports.
1 The American Institute of Stress, “The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory,” 2020.
2 National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Caring for Bereaved Family Members During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Before and After the Death of a Patient,” August 2020.
3 American Counseling Association, “Grief and Loss Resources,” 2021.