QUESTION: Working in Hospice, I always had a terrible time with ---Do I stay in contact with the family after visitation or not?
ANSWER: 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 caregivers to attend the visitation of our patient and that act is appreciated by the family. The visit is paying respect to the patient and family and can be a closure ritual for the caregiver. 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 a final goodbye.
All Hospices have a bereavement program. Ideally the primary care nurse or social worker that worked with the family would contact, either by phone or a home visit, the bereaved family following the death and even invite and meet the family at the first bereavement group meeting. In our busy world that rarely happens. As a Hospice team most of us sign a sympathy card that is sent to the grieving family. As 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 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. Many agencies use my booklet My Friend I Care as their sympathy card. Write your condolences on the inside cover and give it to the family to help them get started on the grieving process.