Bereavement Counseling For Family Members
Bereavement, or mourning, is the process we undergo to heal ourselves
from the pain of a serious loss. Sometimes mourning begins even before
someone dies. When you find yourself grieving as if your loved one
were already gone, it doesn't mean you are being disloyal. It is human
nature to want a loved one's suffering to end.
When someone with advanced cancer dies, the hospice team will continue
to be available to family members for bereavement counseling. Losing a
loved one does not necessarily mean that family members need intensive
counseling to recover from the loss. Often people do fine on their own
or in sharing their feelings with other family members or friends.
Frequently, however, families need the opportunity to continue to talk
with the hospice team that has supported them through the last stages
of the illness.
Hospice team members are specialists in grief. Mourning for someone
you have cared for and loved is a necessary part of feeling better
again and continuing with your own life. You will often experience
emotions of intense sadness and despair, or it may be hard to believe
that the person has really died. You may feel abandoned or angry that
the person has died and relive the past, especially memories of the
illness. You may also experience physical complaints like stomach
distress or problems in sleeping or eating properly. These experiences
and feelings are normal, but they can be disturbing. It can be very
helpful to share them with someone who understands.
Sometimes you may have trouble expressing your feelings because it is
painful to admit that your loved one is really gone. You may feel that
crying is a sign of weakness, or that you are falling apart. This is
not so. Grieving is the way we begin to heal ourselves, just as an
injury needs time to heal. If you don't let yourself grieve, you could
become physically ill or find it impossible to ever feel good again.
There are times when you may feel that you will never recover from
your loss. This is also not true, but we need time to realize that
life can have meaning again. Life will certainly be different without
the person that you loved, but it can be meaningful again if you
accept the grieving process and let it work for you.
HOW BEREAVEMENT SERVICES CAN HELP
- Provide visits or telephone calls from the hospice team to discuss
your loved one's illness and your reactions to the loss.
- Help to clear up medical questions that may still be troublesome.
- Provide help for other family members, especially children, who
often become confused and don't know how to express their feelings.
- Offer suggestions and referrals about practical matters, such as
financial and legal planning.
- Put you in touch with support groups for bereaved people to
discuss ways to approach common problems.
HOW DO YOU FIND THESE SERVICES?
- Bereavement care is always provided by accredited, certified
hospice programs. Bereavement counseling is often done by social
workers, nurses, or specially trained volunteers. Pastoral counselors
or your clergy are also excellent resources.
- If you have not been part of a hospice program, bereavement
counseling is also provided by private practitioners (social workers
or psychologists) or through such community agencies as Family Service
of America, Catholic Social Service or Jewish Family Service. Your
hospital social worker or nurse can refer you to one of these
- Grief is often misunderstood by people who have never experienced
a serious loss. Well- meaning people sometimes give advice that may
make recovering from your loss harder. Examples are advice to make
sudden changes in your lifestyle, such as selling your house,
discarding favorite possessions too quickly, moving to another
community, or premature dating. People sometimes give this advice
because they are unsure about how to help or are uncomfortable with
the intense feelings you may be experiencing.
- When you sense that people are uncomfortable with your feelings,
you may want to explain to them that you don't expect them to make it
better and that listening is the best way they can help you.
- The mourning process is different for everyone. The length of time
that you will grieve will depend on the kind of relationship you had
with the person who died, your own personality, and the support system
that is available to you.
- Many people feel guilty after a serious loss and question their
behavior toward the person throughout the illness period. Those
feelings are common but need to be put in perspective. The hospice
team is experienced in helping people find the best way to feel better
and to begin to live again.
Frequently Asked Questions
National Cancer Institute