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.


  1. Provide visits or telephone calls from the hospice team to discuss your loved one's illness and your reactions to the loss.

  2. Help to clear up medical questions that may still be troublesome.

  3. Provide help for other family members, especially children, who often become confused and don't know how to express their feelings.

  4. Offer suggestions and referrals about practical matters, such as financial and legal planning.

  5. Put you in touch with support groups for bereaved people to discuss ways to approach common problems.


  1. 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.

  2. 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 agencies.


  • 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.


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