The Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA) is proud to offer bereavement services to all caregivers involved in their hospice program once their loved ones have passed away. But many people don’t know much about bereavement, what it is or how it fits into VNA’s continuum of care. Here are some commonly asked questions about bereavement to help you as the primary caregiver better navigate ways to take advantage of these services after the death of a loved one.
What is bereavement?
You can’t talk about bereavement without talking about grief and mourning. These are three separate concepts that are often used interchangeably. Grief is the process of reacting to loss; mourning is the process in which people adapt to loss. Both of these processes take place during bereavement, which is the period after a loss during which grief and mourning are experienced.
There is no set time for how long bereavement will take; that all depends on how attached the caregiver was to the person who died or how much time was spent anticipating the loss. Cultural and global factors affect bereavement as well; customs practiced by certain cultures can have an influence, as can world events such as COVID-19.
How do bereavement services work?
When a loved one begins hospice care, caregivers are made aware of bereavement services and are assured that just because their loved one has passed away, it doesn’t mean VNA will leave them hanging. After the death of a loved one, bereavement services last for 13 months. VNA won’t typically reach out until three to four weeks after the loved one has passed. This is because during that time, there is typically a funeral, and friends and family call caregivers to check in. After that period settles, nurses, social workers and chaplains step in to talk to caregivers about what they are going through and how VNA can be of support.
In terms of what VNA typically does for all bereaved caregivers, they send out sympathy cards, make calls or visit either virtually or in-person depending on the situation. Caregivers will also get mailings containing grief materials appropriate for where they may be in the bereavement period. These materials also may contain literature specific to a caregiver’s loss. For example, it may be a wife receiving something about grieving a husband.
VNA also offers virtual grief support groups on the first and third Tuesdays of every month for anybody, regardless of whether or not they were involved in VNA’s hospice program. These discussions relate to topics relevant to bereaved caregivers in any stage of grief or mourning. No matter where you’re at in the process, these groups are a safe space to share and listen.
Why are bereavement services important?
Bereavement services are important because they aim to bring closure, help caregivers heal and provide caregivers with strategies to cope. They help caregivers move forward instead of move on. Moving on implies leaving the past, but moving forward means taking the memories of a loved one with you so that they will be a part of your heart forever. VNA seeks to do whatever they can to help facilitate this mindset.
What should caregivers do to stay healthy after bereavement services have ended?
Caregivers need to be sure to keep in touch with their support systems, be it somebody at VNA they connected with while involved in bereavement services or a close friend or family member. Also, caregivers should take their time acclimating back into their surroundings. Some people may be more social and have less of a problem reaching out to others as they need that to heal. Others may be a little more introverted and less inclined to jump back into society. Regardless, having a circle of trusted friends and family to help you through the bereavement period is key. Nobody should have to go through it alone.
It’s also important that bereaved caregivers stay in tune with themselves. Notice your eating and sleeping habits, if you’re feeling depressed or if feelings of grief start to increase. Be aware of yourself and reach out for support if needed.
What are common misconceptions about bereavement?
The main misconception surrounding bereavement has to do with the stages of grief. People often expect to go through the stages in a certain order, or go through all of the stages, but research shows that these are just stages that people may go through. Not everyone experiences all the stages or experiences them in a particular order.
Another misconception is that the bereavement period should end after a year. Though VNA’s formal services end after 13 months, that does not mean that your mourning will disappear at the same time. It could be five years after the death of a loved one and you could still find yourself attending one of VNA’s grief support groups. This is not to say that you’re weaker than anybody else but that everyone mourns differently. There is no time frame you’re held to in order to mourn.
For more information regarding VNA’s bereavement services, read our Hospice Care FAQ.