Losing a loved one or someone you cared for during the final moments of their life is often an impactful life event that can cause pain and suffering. The grieving process is never the same and will vary from one individual to another.
How much their death will affect you depends on many factors. For example, your relationship to the person who died and your capacity to cope with death and loss contribute to how well you deal with grief.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What's Hospice Grief Counseling?
- Who Uses Hospice Grief Counseling?
- What Goes on During a Hospice Grief Counseling Session?
- How Do You Find Hospice Grief Counseling?
- What Are Good Supplements to Hospice Grief Counseling?
When a person is mourning a loved one's death, it can lead to intense periods of pain and suffering. Returning to everyday life and routines may be difficult for some following a significant loss. In some cases, talking about death with family becomes nearly impossible, leaving you without an outlet for your pain and suffering.
Hospice grief counseling may be able to help you and your family through the grief-related process even before your loved one passes.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, it's tough to handle both the emotional and technical aspects of their unfinished business without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
What’s Hospice Grief Counseling?
Moving a loved one to hospice can be one of the hardest decisions to make. It can cause profound grief and stress for the entire family. Hospice provides routine, emotional support for patients and makes grief counseling available for the whole family.
Hospice grief counseling offers compassionate care for those who've reached the end of their lives and to the families who provide caregiving support along the way.
In particular, caregivers to those who are dying have a unique need for bereavement support as they go through the end-of-life process with their loved ones. Here are some ways that hospice grief counseling can help:
- Counseling can help you figure out what to expect with palliative care or hospice.
- Counselors can set up visits and phone calls with hospice staff and chaplaincy services.
- They can offer both family and individual support group meetings.
- Counselors can help you with organizing and holding a memorial service.
- They can also offer referrals to other counseling services.
Who Uses Hospice Grief Counseling?
The patient, the patient's family, and those uniquely tasked in providing caregiving support to the patient can all use hospice grief counseling as a means of support while their loved one transitions toward the end of life. Grief doesn't end with the death of the patient. Ongoing bereavement support is usually needed to help families and caregivers beyond their loved one's last days.
Family members, caregivers, and loved ones will usually experience grief after the hospice patient dies. The timing of when grief strikes will fluctuate from one person to the next. Some will go on to living life as close to normal as expected shortly after their loved one's death.
At the same time, others can develop more significant symptoms associated with complicated grief. Some symptoms might include depression, anxiety, and chronic grief after a consequential loss.
Medicare requires hospice care to provide grief and bereavement support to families who've suffered the death of a loved one for a minimum of one year after the hospice patient's end of life. This type of aftercare is offered to families free of charge.
What Goes on During a Hospice Grief Counseling Session?
A hospice grief counseling session aims to get you the help you need to cope with your loss's stress and trauma. You'll learn techniques that help you get closer to the two following goals:
- Bringing together the reality of your loved one's death
- How to move forward from the pain and sorrow that follows
In most cases, a trained grief counselor will help you continue the bond with your deceased loved one. You can expect to work through the two main goals of hospice grief counseling sessions. As with any other type of grief counseling, you will learn to process the timeline and event of your loved one's death and work with your counselor to help you open up about your loss.
Once you get comfortable with what grief counseling is, you can then expect to move on to learning how to incorporate grief-healing techniques in your overall healing journey.
How Do You Find Hospice Grief Counseling?
As mentioned earlier, Medicare and Medicaid require that hospice providers offer hospice and bereavement counseling to a deceased’s families for a minimum of 13 months following their loved one's death. Hospices often extend grief support services to all community members at no charge to the individual receiving treatment.
Many, if not all counselors offer their services to healthcare workers that experience grief and trauma as a direct result of witnessing death and loss in their professional roles.
Locating grief counseling and bereavement support can be as easy as reaching out to your hospice provider's helpline or going online to search for grief counselor's in your area. Typically, your loved one's hospice care team will guide you to a list of preapproved grief counselors and walk you through the steps of obtaining needed care.
The following are more specific ways to find a grief counselor to help you manage after a loved one’s death.
National grief helpline
As a result of the pandemic and the resulting limited mobility for most people dealing with a loved one’s death, most hospice providers now offer national grief helplines. These are phone lines operated by agents who can refer you to an approved grief counselor or therapist.
The lines are open for anyone suffering from stress or grief resulting from a loved one's death and for frontline and healthcare providers.
National funding has made it possible to establish this free service for everyone affected by grief and loss. The helpline workers are equipped to help you with immediate emotional and bereavement support, guidance, information, and other related services.
Grief support groups
Your loved one's hospice care team will have a list of grief support groups to recommend to you and your family. They usually involve groups overseen by the hospice organization, local groups in your community, or those that are peer-supported.
Usually, individuals who've experienced a significant loss and can help you navigate through the final moments of your loved one's life make up these peer-supported groups. Grief support groups are not for everyone, but they do make excellent resources for finding appropriate recommendations to hospice grief counseling providers.
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Funeral homes are excellent resources for offering grief education and support services for families preparing for a loved one’s death. Many community funeral homes have an expansive list of grief and bereavement counselors they can refer you to. They’ll often sponsor their grief support groups or work in tandem with healthcare facilities to offer this service free of charge to the community.
You don’t need to arrange or purchase anything related to your loved one’s funeral through the funeral home offering bereavement services. Check your local online listings for more information on the funeral homes in your area. You can then review their websites for further information on the grief and bereavement counseling services that they offer.
Most hospitals have their in-house chaplaincy team or bereavement counselors available to both patients and their families. They mostly offer licensed social workers, chaplains, and volunteers to support you and your loved one through the final days of your loved one’s life.
These types of grief support services are offered free of charge and usually available at any time of the day and night. You’ll need to talk to your loved one’s medical care team to discuss your needs for grief support services so that they can arrange for them to come to meet with you and your family.
Nursing homes have a general history of not providing adequate bereavement care to their residents or their families either before or after their death. There appears to be no oversight regarding which facilities offer hospice bereavement support services in general.
As most nursing homes are privately owned and do not fall under the same guidelines as hospitals or other similar medical facilities, they have the discretion to provide these services or not. You should take charge in planning for and requesting grief counseling services or coordinating with your loved one’s medicare provider to access these free services for them and your family.
Social media has changed the way many people seek and receive hospice grief counseling services. Facebook is one of the most widely used social media platforms to connect with grief and bereavement support services without ever leaving the comfort of your home.
A quick search of online support groups on the Facebook platform will yield hundreds, if not thousands, of grief- and loss-related support groups. You can search for a group using precise search terms that mesh with the type of grief and loss you’re experiencing. Joining is usually free and without obligation to participate in any public or group discussions.
Places of worship
Your synagogue, church, temple, or another place of worship usually provides faith-based grief support services to its members and sometimes even to non-members just for the asking. Places of prayer help you to discover grief-counseling from a spiritual or religious perspective, lending a new way of looking at life and death.
For some people, this type of grief counseling service can be profoundly comforting during a time of extreme crisis of faith.
What Are Good Supplements to Hospice Grief Counseling?
Hospice bereavement care is part of the package of services offered to dying individuals, their families, and communities. Grief counseling in a hospice setting generally includes onsite grief support by the hospice chaplaincy and a team of trained volunteers. Hospice grief counseling addresses the mental health and spiritual well-being of everyone affected by impending or recent death.
Because every individual grieves differently, there are several ways of supplementing traditional grief counseling in a hospice setting.
Create personal rituals
Personal grief rituals and spiritual ceremonies help you process loss's pain and sorrow and allow for a new approach for healthy grieving. They are perfect companions to hospice grief counseling and support a bereaved person's grief journey.
Rituals and ceremonies help a person facing the end of life and their families adjust to bereavement while honoring the patient's life, helping let go through the bargaining stage of grief, and offering spiritual meaning-making for the entire family. Some rituals include:
- Writing letters to the dying patient
- Sharing a special meal
- Reading spiritual passages together
Music thanatology is a form of grief therapy performed by a specially trained grief and bereavement musician. They sit with the dying and bereaved to offer peace in their final days. Music therapy soothes the soul and calms fear and anxiety in many individuals facing the end of life. Family members also benefit from music therapy.
The music thanatologist uses their voice as an accompaniment to their instrument, usually a harp, mimicking the patient's breath pace and rhythm. Music relaxes grieving individuals faced with the angst of dying or losing a loved one.
The role of a death doula is to provide bereavement and spiritual support to dying individuals and their families. They help usher in death in the most dignified way possible for the dying while remaining a constant presence during the last few days of their life.
The family, friends, social workers, or therapists usually hire the doula to sit with the terminally ill patient as a companion, feed them, provide spiritual support, or act as a liaison between hospice and the family. End-of-life doula services complement that of hospice bereavement care but do not replace any of the services already provided by hospice.
Professional grief counselor
Professional grief counselors can guide your dying loved one and family through the bereavement process, including the denial stage and acceptance stage of grief. Grief counselors are a supplement and not a replacement for the services of hospice grief counseling. A privately hired grief counselor generally comes in to fill in the gaps where needed.
While most grief counselors won't include a spiritual aspect to their grief healing methods unless hired for it, hospice chaplaincy staff and volunteers usually do. Together they work to ensure they meet everyone's individual needs.
Finding Hospice Grief Support Services
Hospice and palliative care organizations generally provide grief counseling and bereavement support components to their patients and their families. They offer the patient medical, psychological, and emotional care while also providing their families with peace and comfort as they cope with the difficult emotions often associated with a loved one's end of life.
Hospice, hospital, and other similar institutions help connect you to the appropriate grief counselors, chaplaincy staff, and bereavement aftercare specialists as part of their overall care plans.