How Nurses Can Help Family Members Cope With Grief

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Grief is the emotional response to a loved one's death. Nurses may be directly affected, or they may provide assistance to bereaved patients and their families. Because you're a nurse, people sometimes expect you to make them feel better. First and foremost, the bad news: there is nothing you can or should say right now to alleviate their suffering. The good news is that there are ways that can help these families cope with grief effectively. It is not your responsibility to console; rather, it is your responsibility to assist. Here's how you can help your patient's family cope with grief.

  1. Listening attentively. Assure the individual that expressing his or her emotions is OK. While you cannot take away the bereaved person's suffering, you can bring a great deal of consolation by simply listening.
  2. Accept that can't imagine what they're going through. People don't want you to act as if you understand (because you don't, even if you've experienced a comparable loss), and they'll appreciate your candor about how unique and tragic their loss is.
  3. After learning of their loved one's death, bereaved family members may be at a loss in what to do. You can assist them by asking them what they need. If they are unaware, you can volunteer to contact other family members or provide the number of a funeral home near their area. Ask how the relative will get home from the hospital if he or she is alone and appears dazed. You can offer to contact a friend or family member who can drive the relative home.
  4. Some families may choose to spend a few moments with their deceased loved one following their death, while others may not. Whatever the family's wishes are, respect them. If they do wish to say farewell, you might want to prepare them for what to expect, especially if they have young children with them.
  5. Inquire if they want to speak with a doctor about any concerns they may have. Before you offer this, make sure there is a doctor present to speak with them! If there isn't one, tell them you'll get one set up, but it might take a while.
  6. It's crucial not to give unsolicited advice to someone who is mourning. Although such counsel is usually well-intentioned, it can make a bereaved person feel even worse. Instead, tell the grieving family that you appreciate how awful their loss is. "This must be a difficult time for you," you might say, or "How difficult this must be for you and your family."
  7. Respond to their inquiries about what will happen next. Many families don't know how long they have to call a funeral home or what they should say, so go over this with them. Specify if the remains will need to stay in the hospital morgue, visit the medical examiner/coroner, and so on.
  8. It's natural to have trouble coming up with the correct words. Simple words are frequently the most effective. For example, say: “I’m so sorry. What can I do to assist you? What counts most is that you care and want to help, regardless of how unsure you are about the aid you are providing; the grieving person will most likely appreciate your honest efforts to be supportive.
  9. Allow them to express and release their emotions. If they feel a good weep coming on, don't try to stop them. Don't worry if hearing certain music or doing specific activities makes them sad because it reminds them of the person they've lost. Feeling this way is very natural.
  10. It can be difficult to accept what has transpired after a loss. The family may be numb, have difficulty believing the tragedy occurred, or even deny the truth. Make sure that they are safe and comfortable. If a family member has a history of hypertension, make sure to monitor.

Nurses are no strangers to the issues they confront when a patient dies, as they support bereaved families at the moment of their loved one's passing. Nurses have other patients to look after, and they typically have minimal training in supporting bereaved families, despite the fact that families come to them for help.

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