Dealing with the Bereaved #caring


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

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.

Receptionists Training: Listening Skills


Being a good listener is your starting point for being a good receptionist, but there are “skills” to listening that goes beyond just lending an ear and making sympathetic noises when someone points out their troubles.

We should try to listen ‘actively’ so that the person feels that we are with them and are trying hard to understand their story and how they feel. We do not have to be trained as counsellors or to be able to use listening skills but we do need to be aware that – like all skills they need to be practiced. They are different from conversation skills and are harder to perfect.

Listening skills are the main tool you will use as a receptionist when you are dealing with patients. Whatever you think of your abilities as a listener you should always be assessing how you work, finding weakness in your approach and trying to improve on them.


You can get clues about others’ attitudes and understand their point of view better, even if you do not like them or agree with them.


You motivate others to continue talking and give you as much information as they can – without too much effort – this will help you reach the right decision quickly and save time.


People appreciate your interest in what they have to say, and are likely to work better with you. This works well when someone might be making a complaint.


This works both ways and can often get a better result.

You might be prevented from listening well by your own views or by other distractions. To overcome this try to:

  • Put aside thought of what you are going to say next
  • Avoid interrupting
  • Resist distraction
  • Face the speaker, so you both see and hear each other
  • As for clarification where you do not understand the other person
  • Focus on the main points only – do not get side tracked onto another issue
  • Always make brief notes (key words ie dates, times, names, nature of conversation)
  • Prioritise – if you are in hurry, if appropriate postpone to a time when you can give the situation your full-time (this might be a staff issue if you are a manager or team leader) If you cannot postpone make sure someone will deal with the situation – but ensure that they are aware of the situation. Advise the person you are dealing with knows that you have passed it on to someone else.
  • Use encouraging language (“I was interested in your point………”)
  • As for clarification (“could you give me an example of that”)
  • Paraphrase (“you said…….”)
  • Do not interrupt – let the other person have their say.
  • Do not undermine other people.


The patient has come expecting:

  • A non-judgemental and supportive response to the issues they want to discuss.
  • A supportive environment whatever their issue or the decisions they take to resolve it.
  • To feel supported in an open atmosphere – this may be the first time they have been open and they may well be frightened or anxious about speaking to someone


  • Give individual attention
  • Repress emotional responses
  • Pay attention to non verbal messages
  • Notice body language
  • Do not pre-judge – listen to what the other person is saying, not what you think he /she is going to say. Give them time to finish.
  • Do not pre-formulate your reply – wait until the patient has finished before you reply. Often we are thinking of a reply and do not hear everything the other person has to say.
  • Focus on the important issues – concentrate on the main messages, do not get involved on trivial issues.
  • Test your understanding – check out your understanding by paraphrasing eg “what you are saying is……………..”
  • Respond to feelings – a message has both content and feelings. It is vital to understand feelings behind the message and respond to them, rather than only the content.
  • Give
  • paraphrase
  • Check for understanding

And remember – treat the person in front of you as you would want to be treated if it was you standing there in their shoes.

Effective Communicating – A Self Evaluation


This questionnaire may help you start to be more aware of our listening habits. This applies when dealing with customers, fellow team members and even at a meeting.

Answer yes or no truthfully to the questions below. Then see how you can improve
on your skills. This could be a good one to discuss in a team meeting.


Look at the person who is speaking to you?

Ignore people who say something you don’t agree with, or don’t want to hear?

Concentrate on what is being said, even if you are not really interested?

Assume you know what the speaker is going to say next, and stop listening.

Repeat in your own words what the speaker has just said.

Listen to the other person’s viewpoint, even if it is different from yours.

Learn something, even if slight, from people you meet

Find out what words mean if they are used in a way unfamiliar to you

Form a rebuttal in your head while the speaker is still talking.

Give the appearance of listening when you are not.

Daydream while the speaker is speaking.

Listen for the main ideas, not just the facts

Recognise that words may not mean exactly the same thing to different people.

Listen to only what you want to hear, blotting out the rest

Concentrate on the speaker’s meaning rather than how he or she looks

Know which words and phrases you respond to emotionally

Think about what you want to accomplish with your communication

Plan the appropriate time to say what you want to say

Think about how the other person might react to what you say

Consider the best way to make your communication work, ie written, spoken or telephone.

Think about what kind of person you are talking to (eg are they shy, worried, upset, etc)

Feel that you usually “get through” to the other person

Think “I assume he/she would have know that”

Allow the speaker to vent negative feelings towards you / your surgery without becoming defensive

Practice regularly to increase your listening efficiency

Take notes when necessary to help you remember information given
to you

Hear sounds without being distracted by them

Listen to the speaker without judging or criticizing

Repeat instructions or messages to be sure you understood correctly.

Story of Four People

This is a story about four people



There was an important job to be done and EVERYBODY was asked to do it.

ANYBODY could have done it, but NOBODY did it.

SOMEBODY got angry about that because it was EVERYBODY’S job.

EVERYBODY thought ANYBODY could do it but NOBODY realised that EVERYBODY wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that EVERYBODY blamed SOMEBODY when actually NOBODY asked ANYBODY.


Good Clear Communication Starts With Each of Us!

The Primary goal of communication is to increase listening and understanding.