Bereavement is an unusual word. It’s not thrown around in daily conversation as much as the words grief and mourn are. This has a lot to do with the meaning of the word, which refers to the loss or deprivation of something or someone, but especially the loss of someone by death.
Notice that the definition doesn’t say much about emotion or feelings. To be bereaved is literally the fact that the loss occurred. The emotions associated with the loss are those more familiar words like grief, anguish, distress, etc.
Bereavement is unavoidable after a loved one dies, because it simply acknowledges the situation. That does not mean, however, that all bereavement looks alike. In fact I think no two bereavements are exactly the same.
When Mrs. S lost her husband in his 50’s, she had just sent her youngest daughter to college and was now utterly alone. At the suggestion of a bereavement specialist, instead of going inward, she began taking dance, art, and design classes to keep her mind busy. In her grief she found a new niche as an interior designer, helping other people with loss transform their homes and heal.
Mr. C had been married 60 years when his spouse died. He didn’t have the energy for anything new. He lost weight and became withdrawn. It appeared on the outside that he was willing himself to follow his beloved wife. Bereavement counseling started and Mr. C was able to see through the fog of his enormous loss to the children and grandchildren that still wanted to enjoy him for his remaining years.
When we talk about hospice, one of the treasures people forget about is bereavement support. For at least a year and often longer, hospice provides a specialist in bereavement to help families cope with the loss. This means someone from the outside is able to notice subtle red flags of complicated grief and can help get things turned around.
Sometimes, as for Mr. W whose death was peaceful at the age of 83, bereavement support was needed for a grandson who required help processing his first experience with death. Mr. W’s grandson later admitted, without the support from hospice, he would have relapsed into a drug addiction that he’d recently quit.
While it is true that death in the hospital and death at home without hospice can be peaceful and symptom free, it is also true that without hospice, there is no chance for bereavement support or follow up. Of course, families and church communities are often pivotal in supporting each other in times of loss, but bereavement support from hospice is that extra net, making sure no one falls through the cracks. Best of all, like all other hospice services, it doesn’t cost anything. By simply being on hospice, the entire family is entitled to bereavement support.
For some, this is the only reason that they considered hospice. They didn’t need hospice for medications, or home visits, however they worried about their loved ones, and wanted assurance the family would be supported after their death.