Dear Barbara, Working in hospice, I always had a terrible time with -- do I stay in contact with the family after the death?
I think staying in contact with a family after the death is a personal practice and option. Most of the time there is another patient and family admitted to our full schedule and we get caught up in "there aren't enough hours in the day" living.
I do think it is healthy for us to attend the visitation of our patient. It brings us closure and is appreciated by the family. The visit is our way of paying respect to the patient and family. It is also our final goodbye.
I personally discovered years ago that I needed some sort of closure ritual for myself when a patient I worked with died. For me, attending the visitation gave me contact with the family and offered me that final goodbye—that was my closure ritual.
As a hospice team most of us sign a sympathy card that is sent to the grieving family. For the primary care nurse or social worker or any staff member that has had direct contact on numerous occasions with the patient and/or family, I recommend sending a personal card or note to the family in addition to the team card. We in health care enter a family's life at a challenging, sad and fearful time. It is our acts of thoughtfulness that will be remembered and provide comfort.
All that said, I want to give you something to think about: We do not get emotionally involved with most of the patients and families we provide care for. We do not develop relationships that we want to continue after our work is done. Every so often a person and family will enter our personal space, fill some void we have within ourselves. For that person we will grieve. For that person we may want further contact.
If all the patients and families got that deep inside our hearts we would not be able to continue our work. Our heart, our mind, and our life would carry too much grief. We would not be able to be objective. It would not be healthy for us to stay in end of life work.
Something More about... Do I Stay In Contact After the Death?
Agencies (and end of life doulas) use my booklet, My Friend, I Care; The Grief Experience as their sympathy "card". The team signs the front page of the booklet and provides the family with a support tool and comfort for the bereaved.
Here is another article that give suggestions on further support for families- The Reluctance to Attend Bereavement Support Groups.