Dealing with the Bereaved #caring


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It’s been a tough couple of months. 2 very close friends have lost loved ones and 2 family members have died. 2 of them young woman in their 50’s losing their life to that horrendously awful disease CANCER. Every single one of them leaving behind broken-hearted family and friends.

I have shared their journeys through the caring for their loved ones and it saddens me to hear that they had many battles along the way. Getting much-needed appointments, lack of communication between different organisations and sadly just not enough resources in the NHS to assist them in their caring. But also, the many different positive stories they shared about the many different GP, hospital staff and voluntary organisations that often helped make the day that bit better for their professionalism and caring natures.

Often when someone is ill, especially terminally life is very hard on the people caring for them. They often have very little support or no support at all. One of the carers had to give up their job to care for their wife so he could accompany her to the many appointments for chemotherapy and radiotherapy and to the many visits to A&E and the GP. They had to be the “strong ones” Every single bit of help for them (the carer) goes a very long way in their fight to give their loved one the best possible care that they can………………but they need support from so many other organisations to be able to do this.

The carers often get worn down, quickly feeling low or even getting depressed and often face financial difficulties. Who cares for the patient if the cater gets ill?

Attitude, communication, empathy, time, and listening skills don’t cost a lot but can be invaluable to the carer – and the patient.

If you are aware of such a carer needing a doctor’s appointment please communicate, have empathy and use your listening skills. Try and accommodate an appointment that will allow them to fit in around the caring that they are doing.  They might find a telephone consultation easier. Some carers are worn down by the sheer volume of the day-to-day caring and fighting for their loved one. When it comes to them seeking attention for themselves they just don’t have the fight in them anymore. You need to be their “fight” When someone is watching their loved one suffering in pain, they don’t need any extra pressure.

When I was a Receptionist I was often faced with terminally ill patients. People that were caring for loved ones with terminal illnesses and often them needed to be treated as a patient due to the stress of being a carer.

I still remember the first time I dealt with a family member who had just lost their loved one to cancer. They came into the surgery to collect the death certificate. This was the first time that I had ever come face to face with someone who had just had a death in their family. I was lost for words. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing and I felt bad for this afterwards. I just didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to upset the person.

I also was “surprised” at how some people behaved when then had just lost a loved one. Some would appear to be “happy” even cracking jokes, some would come in and were obviously very upset, some would come in and wanting to blame someone for the death of their loved one, others would just act as if nothing had happened.

I had the opportunity to go on a bereavement training session and this explained so much to me. It taught me why people react to death in many different ways.

The training explained the different emotions that people might be going through immediately after the death.

Shock: It may take you a long time to grasp what has happened. The shock can make you numb, and some people at first carry on as if nothing has happened. It is hard to believe that someone important is not coming back. Many people feel disoriented – as if they have lost their place and purpose in life or are living in a different world.

Pain: Feelings of pain and distress following bereavement can be overwhelming and very frightening.

Anger: Sometimes bereaved people can feel angry. This anger is a completely natural emotion, typical of the grieving process. Death can seem cruel and unfair, especially when you feel someone has died before their time or when you had plans for the future together. We may also feel angry towards the person who has died, or angry at ourselves for things we did or didn’t do or say to the person before their death.

Guilt: Guilt is another common reaction. People who have been bereaved of someone close often say they feel directly or indirectly to blame for the person’s death. You may also feel guilt if you had a difficult or confusing relationship with the person who has died, or if you feel you didn’t do enough to help them when they were alive.

Depression: Many bereaved people experience feelings of depression following the death of someone close. Life can feel like it no longer holds any meaning and some people say they too want to die.

Longing: Thinking you are hearing or seeing someone who has died is a common experience and can happen when you least expect it. You may find that you can’t stop thinking about the events leading up to the death. “Seeing” the person who has died and hearing their voice can happen because the brain is trying to process the death and acknowledge the finality of it.

Other people’s reactions: One of the hardest things to face when we are bereaved is the way other people react to us. They often do not know what to say or how to respond to our loss. Because they don’t know what to say or are worried about saying the wrong thing, people can avoid those who have lost someone. This is hard for us because we may well want to talk about the person who has died. It can become especially hard as time goes on and other people’s memories of the person who has died fade.

The training was excellent and I would really recommend if such a training course becomes available. I understood and was able to deal with bereavement a lot better. I was also able to communicate better, had empathy and my listening skills often came into good use.  I felt I made a difference. I was more confident to talk to people and ask how they were coping and make sure that I did everything in my power to make their visit to the Surgery went as smoothly as possible.

People often appreciated this, and would often say that I would be the first person that day that had acknowledge their loss.

Being recently bereaved can often be a very lonely place.

When I was a manager I instigated a Special Needs Board – this was extremely helpful to Reception staff when it came to identify patients that had just died or were terminally ill.

See blog post:      Special Needs Board http://t.co/wnWKmxHV

As a Receptionist, its important how you react to someone who has just had a bereavement. Knowing that this person might have needs (especially if they are a patient) and how you can make such a great impact on them.

How you treat them can give a lasting impression. Make it a good impression and not a bad one.

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What To Say And What Not To Say To A Grieving Person


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As a receptionist you will deal with the death of patients. It is often very sad when say a young patient dies, a teenager that had their life in front of them taken away, a parent leaving a young family behind, or the elderly patient that used to come in with cakes every week for everyone – we all have our favourite patients and their death no matter what age can often be very sad and have a big impact on many staff within the practice.

As a Practice are you the Receptionists made aware of patient that has recently died? Are you informed of such or do you just find out by chance.

It is important that you are giving such information as you often will be the first person that the grieving person will be talking to. How you handle that telephone call or face to face conversation will made a big impact on the grieving person.

For a new receptionist this could be the first time that they are faced with such an incident. At your practice do you have policies for such a delicate issue? Family members of the deceased will be coming into the surgery to pick up death certificates, and to perhaps see the doctor.

As a Receptionist how would you deal with this?

I asked new Receptionists this very question and some felt comfortable that they could approach the person and give them words of comfort. Others would often say “I would not know what to say” and “I would be afraid of saying the wrong thing so therefore would not say anything at all”

As a Receptionist you could be the first avenue of comfort to the grieving person. No longer are the excuses “I don’t know what to say” or I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing” acceptable. Some people might say “Ignorance is bliss” but when it comes to consoling the bereaved, ignorance is certainly not “bliss”

In your role as a Receptionist would you say something to the grieving person or would you not feel confident enough to say anything at all?

Often people want to say something to the grieving person but are unsure of what to say so will actually not say anything at all in fear of upsetting the person.

Remember, grieving the loss of a loved one is the worst pain that someone can endure. Be respectful and polite. Don’t discount anyone’s feelings. Even if someone puts on a brave face and looks like they are handling it well, don’t assume that the person is.

Show that you care.

Here are some suggestions at things that you could say to someone who is grieving

  • I am so sorry to hear of your loss.

Making an acknowledgement that you are aware of their loss will mean such a lot to the person. This often is the simplest and most effective thing to say. It also shows respect

  • You and your family are in my thoughts

Especially if you know other members of the family.

  • I can’t imagine how painful this must be for you

You can’t begin to know how this person is feeling, even if you have lost someone yourself in your life, everyone deals with grief and loss in different ways.

  • She/he was so nice – she/he will be missed by so many people.

If the person that has died was special to you or any of your team in any way – share that with the person – tell them how special they were, share a story if you have one like they used to bring you cakes in each week, or they always had a smile on their face when they came to the surgery. This will be a comfort to the person listening.

Here are some things that you should not say to someone who is grieving

  • Do not say – “I know how you feel”

Its simple  – you have no idea how they are feeling. Losses cannot be compared.

  • Do not say – “You’ll get through it – just be strong”

At this moment in time the one thing they do not feel is strong.

  • Do not  say – “don’t feel bad”

Of course they feel bad and it’s totally normal to do so.

  • Do not say – “I understand”

You cannot possible understand how that specific individual is handling their loss.

  • Do not say – “Time will heal all wounds”

Because for the grieving individual, imagining life without their loved one is, well, at that point unimaginable.

  • Do not tell the person how you would feel in their place

They just don’t want to hear it – or need to hear it. It’s not about you!

  • Do not say – At least they didn’t suffer (in the event of a sudden death)

It certainly didn’t make it easy on the person standing there in front of you and at that moment in time it is no comfort to them. They are still grieving their loss.

  • Do not say – He/she is in a better place

What they person would pick up from that message is – better than here with me!

The common thread in the statements above (and many more like them) is that while most may be said in an attempt to comfort, absolutely none of these statements will console anyone.

As Receptionists I am sure that you are compassionate and you do deal with the bereaved in a professional manner. But it is important that when any new Receptionist starting at your Practice has appropriate training in this very delicate matter and that they get it right.

And most important if the grieving person does not want to share, then you should respect their wishes and give them some space. You have done your best to show your respect for their loss.

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