As a nurse or carer, you are often one of the first people that a family interacts with after a loss, and your role can be crucial in helping them through their grieving process. Your empathy, compassion, and clinical expertise can make a significant difference in their journey towards healing. 

By providing practical support and resources, you can help the family navigate a difficult time and support them in making informed decisions about their loved one's care.

Here are some tips to help you provide compassionate and effective support.

Listen actively.

Active listening can help you understand the family's perspective, validate their feelings, and provide comfort. Empathy and understanding can help build trust and create a supportive environment for the family to express their emotions. 

It's also important to respect their privacy and give them space and time to process their feelings. Remember, everyone grieves differently, and it's important to provide individualised support based on each family's unique needs and circumstances.

Validate their feelings. 

Acknowledging that the family's emotions are normal and validating their grief can help them feel heard and supported. Grief is a complex and personal process, and there is no "right" way to grieve. Each person experiences it differently, and everyone's journey is unique. 

By acknowledging this, you can help the family feel less alone and more understood in their grief. Additionally, by being non-judgmental, you can provide a safe space for them to express their feelings and emotions.

Offer practical assistance.

As a nurse or carer, you may have experience with the administrative aspects of care, and by assisting the family with these tasks, you can help alleviate some of their stress and provide practical support. This could include completing necessary forms, coordinating care with other healthcare providers, or helping with discharge planning. 

It's important to approach these tasks with empathy and understanding, and to keep the family's needs and preferences in mind. By assisting the family with these practical tasks, you can help ease the burden and support them through the grieving process.

Provide them with knowledge and resources. 

As a nurse, you can play an important role in educating the family about the grieving process, common reactions, and available resources. This can help them understand what to expect and provide them with information that can help them cope with their loss. 

Additionally, by being knowledgeable about the available resources, you can provide appropriate referrals and connect the family with the support they need. Whether it's grief counselling, support groups, or other resources, being informed and providing the right referrals can make a big difference in the family's healing journey.

Answer any questions and explain what happens next.

Many families have no idea how long they have to call a funeral home or what to tell the funeral home, so go over this with them. Depending on their circumstances, explain whether they will stay at the hospital morgue, go to the medical examiner/coroner, or if a funeral provider can come and collect them whenever the family is ready.

Respect their choices.

Respect the family's beliefs, cultural practices, and end-of-life decisions, and be mindful of any specific requests they may have. It’s not your place to offer other suggestions or push your own views if they haven’t asked for it. 

Be mindful of your own emotions. 

As a nurse or carer, you may also experience grief and emotions related to the patient's death, so make sure to take care of your own emotional well-being. This could include seeking support from colleagues, participating in peer support programs, or seeking counselling or therapy if needed. 

You take on so much as a healthcare worker, so it’s important to look after yourself. By taking care of yourself and filling your own cup, you can better support your patients and their families, and continue to provide high-quality care during difficult times.

Shedding a few tears is okay, but if you’re finding yourself overly emotional about the loss of a patient, it’s okay to ask for another staff member to step in so you can collect yourself. You don’t want the family to feel like they need to support you through the loss. 

Final thoughts on supporting a grieving family as a nurse or carer. 

A supportive and compassionate approach can have a profound impact on the well-being of a grieving family. You have the opportunity to make a positive difference in their lives and to provide them with the care and support they need during a difficult time. 

Your compassionate and empathetic approach can help the family feel heard, understood, and validated, and can help ease the burden of their grief. By being a compassionate and supportive presence, you can help the family navigate their difficult journey and provide them with the resources and support they need to heal and move forward.

Head to the links below for further reading, or head to our grief support page for more resources on how to talk about grief with families. 

Further reading for nurses and carers:

All information provided is general. For additional information relating to advance care planning, please speak to your health professional for advice about your specific circumstances. You can call the NHS on 111 for immediate help or 999 for emergency assistance if you or someone you know is at immediate risk of harm. 

Bare helps you say goodbye on your terms. For more information, call 0808 258 3583 or visit the Bare Cremation website.