The death of a loved one is devastating for families. As noted by recent research, a “sizable minority” of family members who lose loved ones in hospice care will experience bereavement-related mental health ailments such as depression or anxiety, while another study points to the significant impacts of parents’ death in hospice or home care on their adult children.1,2
To help families cope with the stress and sadness of losing a loved one, it’s critical for hospices to provide bereavement support services that begin when patients are admitted and continue after their passing to support their loved ones at home.
What is Bereavement Care?
Family bereavement care describes the services provided by hospice or home health providers to families after the death of a loved one. This care can take many forms but has a consistent overall goal: to help families through the grieving process.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), bereavement care must be provided for up to 13 months after a patient’s passing. Hospice providers must also conduct initial bereavement risk assessments before patients’ end-of-life to identify any social, spiritual, or cultural factors that may affect the grieving process. This assessment also helps providers determine the best combination of services and support to offer families before and after patients’ passing.3
Helping Families Navigate the Unfamiliar
No matter how long a patient has been ill or how slow the progression of their illness, nothing prepares families for the loss of a loved one. Responses to death aren’t predictable, but often include family members experiencing disrupted routines, finding themselves challenging old beliefs about their own mortality, and feeling overwhelmed by both the loss of a loved one and the tasks that must be completed to settle their affairs.4
Hospice bereavement services can help families bridge the gap between the initial impact of death and the development of new processes that help them navigate this unfamiliar territory. In practice, in-home hospice bereavement care often includes regular visits from trained grief counselors or volunteers along with connections to support groups and referrals to mental health professionals to help families manage their grief. The in-home aspect of this care is especially critical. With their lives turned upside down by the loss of a loved one, connecting with family members in familiar settings can help reduce their stress and make them more receptive to bereavement care efforts.
Continuing the Care Journey
Hospice care doesn’t end with the passing of a family member. In much the same way that medical efforts now focus on treating the whole person rather than simply the symptoms or cause of their disease, hospices now focus on providing holistic care for patients that includes their social and familial support network.5
For hospice providers, the journey of care doesn’t end with the death of a family member — instead, this is simply one part of the larger care journey. From the first moment that patients arrive in hospice to the final contact with family members months after their loved one has passed, hospice bereavement care is a process that recognizes the interconnected nature of human experience to help family members find their own path to closure.
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1 National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Hospice Bereavement Service Delivery to Family Members and Friends With Bereavement-Related Mental Health Symptoms,” November 14, 2018.
2 NCBI, “Death of Parents and Adult Psychological and Physical Well-Being: A Prospective U.S. National Study,” February 10, 2009.
3 The University of Rochester Medical Center, “When a Family Grieves,” 2022.
4 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), “State Operations Manual Appendix M – Guidance to Surveyors: Hospice,” February 21, 2020.
5 American Psychological Association (AMA), “Speaking of Psychology: Treating the Whole Person,” 2015.