Every day this work as a Care Navigator (Social Worker) is about learning the story of somebody’s ‘someone.’ What I have learned for sure is that the power of education and validation helps pave the way to less stress, better coping, and overall transformed lives.
The magic lives in our visit structure. Our visits have structure so that each patient receives the same great service, but I have the creative freedom to do almost anything that I think will resonate with the patient (or family member) and I can adjust our bereavement support to fit their interests. For example, one pre-bereaved spouse was a self-proclaimed rock hound, so during a visit, I brought “story stones” and she was able to use them to tell me her biggest fears and concerns. Adults often, like children, know what they feel, but lack the ability to communicate it because of habituated poor coping, past trauma, and more. Things like miniatures in a sand tray are not only purposeful for children in play therapy but can be used creatively with adults. I recently had a patient whose life’s work was creating amazing miniatures. When working one-on-one with the widow, it may be useful, and especially meaningful based on the spouse’s work, to use miniatures in our bereavement visits.
Each and every patient makes an impact on our lives and learning each person’s “story” helps my team and I serve them better.
We recently worked with a gentleman who was said to be 1 of 5 remaining WWII Veterans in the US. During that war, he was present at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Later, at the end of his life, he was living alone and failing. His neighbors started helping him and eventually, we were able to provide hospice care to him. We were able to contact his daughters who were both living out of the area. When the time came, both were able to be with him at his death. What an honor it was to help this man have his family with him at the end. It is always a privilege to serve those who served our country. We serve greatness!”
After the death of our patients, we have the opportunity to serve their loved ones with our bereavement program. We offer free grief and loss support for 13 months (and sometimes longer) after a death. During those 13 months, the family can choose their level of support. Whether they want no bereavement support, or to receive bereavement newsletters in the mail, or if they need one-on-one counseling, we are here to help fulfill your needs. During bereavement services, I also have the opportunity to personalize this care to fit the person’s needs.
A recent widow requested a bereavement visit and as soon as I walked in and she started crying as she relayed her husband’s last moments. In her moment of intense grief, she turned to me and asked, “Can you do that breathing thing again?” I was able to reiterate some previously reviewed breathing exercises that decrease anxiety and depression while putting her in a gentle heart opening position.
Garrett Price, Senior VP of Social Services & Bereavement, taught me that grief requires time and expression. Since learning that, I apply it every day. It is what helps me relax and build confidence with different therapeutic manipulatives and treatment modalities. I have done some fun, and what may seem strange, things with patients. Recently, I got to work with a person on pre-bereavement who “sat” with her fear. A few visits later when she told me she was ready to let it go, I had her write down her fears (unbeknownst to her on special paper that dissolves in water). After she wrote them down I asked what she wanted to do with them and she said she didn’t need them anymore. We put those fears that she wrote down in a bowl of water and they literally dissipated.
Young children and teenagers also experience grief. They often don’t understand everything that is happening and they can react in many different ways. Our unique children and adolescent bereavement programs are made especially for them. As Care Navigators we are trained to give these young grievers special tools to help them process grief in a healthy way. Heart ‘n Home also has developed pre-bereavement services that help address grief before a loss. By addressing grief before the loss, a person is better equipped to deal with their grief after the loss.
I could go on and on, and tell you something about each of the patients we serve, like the patient who lives in the Hallmark movie, grandma-type house, or the patient just down the road from there who lives in a garden shed. I could tell you about households where patients and spouses have been together for decades and don’t want to let hospice in. There are some patients who tell you “what idiots you all are” and they feel that they don’t need your help. But when you get down on your knees, look into their eyes, and sincerely ask what their biggest fear is, the tears come and they realize that you are really there to help.
Each patient is unique and they have unique wants and desires. We support them with all the same care that we give to all our patients, but we cater those services to what that particular patient needs; when they need it. What I love most is that we get to serve ALL without judgment.
You may not know that all hospice agencies are required to offer bereavement support. But, although it’s a requirement, hospice agencies don’t receive any money for bereavement services. Because of this, many agencies only offer minimal support. But here at Heart ‘n Home Hospice, we not only offer bereavement support for thirteen months, but we know the life-long benefits of grief and loss services and therefore go above and beyond to provide those services. Each Care Navigator and Grief & Loss Specialist wants to make sure that the families of our patients are taken care of. We know that is a great comfort to our patients as well; their loved ones will have our continued support whenever they need it.
Heart ‘n Home’s bereavement program is unique and makes us different than other agencies. If you or a loved one has a terminal illness and could use the extra support that Heart ‘n Home’s bereavement services provide, contact us today. We will make sure you have the tools that you need to help YOU grieve.