Hospice Bereavement support, as well as any bereavement support program (church, Community Support, Senior Activity Program) is important during the best of times. Now it is vital. Here are my recommendations; what I would do if I had a bereavement program today during this pandemic.
First team meeting following the death:
Pass the grief booklet, My Friend, I Care, around the meeting to have each staff member who was involved with the particular family write personal condolences on the inside front cover. This is your sympathy card but with additional guidance for the family to begin their grief journey. Mail the booklet through the US Postal Service.
First week following the death:
A volunteer is assigned to the family’s primary caregiver. The volunteer’s role is to become a supportive friend. Begins with an introduction, first week call explaining “I will be checking in with you every day for a while, just to see how you are doing. It's hard to be sheltering in place alone.” Then the volunteer can visit on the phone to get acquainted. Once a week the volunteer gives their report to the social worker in charge of the bereavement follow-up.
That first week the social worker also calls the family’s primary caregiver to check in, “ What’s happening?" Let them know you are a person for them to share thoughts, fears, and concerns with. Say, "I’ll be checking in with you once a week for a while.”
After a month of daily volunteer calls and once a week social work calls evaluate if you can cut back volunteer calls to a couple of times a week and social work calls to once a month.
You don’t address low or high risk. Everyone during this time of grief is high risk. After about a month you evaluate the grief progression, you may be able to cut the volunteer's calls to once a week.
Now you offer your bereavement support Zoom sessions. Have the volunteer explain the support group, encourage virtual attendance. Have the social worker explain the group and invite also. Bereavement support groups are a tough sell under normal circumstances. It will be harder with more obstacles now.
Gradually over the next few months evaluate the person’s handling of their grief. The volunteer determines through the developed relationship how often to check in. The volunteer calls will progress to monthly for the first year. Social worker contact is determined by how well the person is progressing in their grief. Ideally, as a social worker, you reach a point that you call at 6 months and again on the year anniversary.
Some hospices and other support groups send monthly notes and a year anniversary card. That is lovely but is not nearly enough support for any griever let alone during this current time when the mourning rituals are all but non existent——-visitations, funerals, let alone the ability to be or not to be at the bedside at the time of death will all affect how we progress in our grief.
The way we offer bereavement support from this point on is going to be different. Support isn’t found in the questions we ask, in the guidance we suggest. It is found in contact. In normal, non pandemic times, we would be using presence, touch, and eye contact as well as words to give support. Now we resort to phone and Zoom, to the human voice as our tool of support. BUT, remember, it isn’t so much the words or advice we give but the sound of another understanding voice, particularly while we are sheltering in place.