3 Ways Nurses Can Help Families Cope With Grief

By Lucy Wyndham

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Medical workers are no strangers to grief. Recent data shows that 63% of Americans die in hospitals, and nurses can sometimes struggle to support grieving families after a death. No matter if you’ve been a nurse for only a few months or a decade, it’s important to know how to help families cope with grief by being supportive, answering questions, and just being there for them in their time of need.

Understanding grief reactions

One of the hardest parts of being a medical professional is informing the family about the death of their loved one. Doctors and nurses can attest that telling relatives who are expecting the death of a seriously ill loved one is a different experience than having to break the news of a sudden and unexpected death. Doctors and nurses are first and foremost trained to deal with diagnoses and treating medical conditions.

While the family may be mentally prepared to receive the sad news in the first scenario, relatives may find it hard to cope with the bad news when they lose someone unexpectedly. In the latter situation, nurses must expect the grief reactions of the suddenly bereaved such as shock and denial, and in some cases, the relatives may even lash out in anger towards hospital staff. At moments like this, nurses must be compassionate and kind towards those who are grieving and do what they can to help families cope with their loss. Here are 3 ways to do it.

Ask them what they need

Family members who are in shock may be at a loss what to do after learning about the death of their loved one. You can help by asking them what they need. If they have no idea, you can offer to call other family members or contact a funeral home for them. If the relative is alone and seems dazed, ask how he or she will be getting home from the hospital and offer to contact a friend or family member who can take the relative home.

Don’t try to fix things

You can’t hasten the grieving process by trying to fix things. Avoid making unhelpful comments such as “He’s in a better place right now,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” The best thing a nurse can do is to be there and to show that you care.   

Ask if they want to say goodbye to their loved one

Some families may want to spend a few moments with their loved one after death, while others may not want to do that at all. Respect the family’s wishes whatever it may be. You may also want to prepare them for what to expect if they do want to say goodbye, especially if there are young children with them.

At a family’s time of need, the best things that nurses can do is to be helpful and compassionate. By doing so, you can help people cope with the death of their loved ones in the best way that you can.

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