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Unsung Heroes: The Hospice Bereavement Counselor

Before the pandemic, if you walked into the office of a hospice at the end of the day, you were likely to see a bereavement counselor (BC) sitting at a desk in a small room. The room was most likely filled with stacks of letters, brochures and DVDs, leaving little room for maneuvering.

The bereavement counselor, wearing a headset attached to the telephone, may have looked at the lengthy call list. Or, you might have watched them dial the phone and engage in conversations. You watched as the BC settled into the call. With elbows on the desk, hands clasped, eyes closed and head bent, it was clear that active and intentional listening was happening.

From one-on-one counseling to organizing memorial services, bereavement counselors provide essential services for those dealing with a loss.

What is the Role of the Bereavement Counselor?

As a member of the hospice interdisciplinary team (IDG), the bereavement counselor is responsible for linking arms with the bereaved and walking with them through the maze of their grief.

Although the Medicare Hospice Conditions of Participation state that bereavement services should be available for up to one year, best practice and the recommendation of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) is a 13-month period. This time span allows support for every major holiday, birthday and anniversary, including the anniversary of the loved one’s death.

Bereavement Support is Included in the Plan of Care

Support provided to bereaved clients is part of the hospice plan of care, which is developed in collaboration with the IDG. Based on the assessed bereavement risk, the bereavement plan of care directs the amount and type of BC involvement.

Interventions used to support the bereaved include using a combination of in-person visits, telephone calls and mailings. This process empowers families to recognize and identify areas of strength and resilience while exploring ways they have effectively coped in the past.

Ways a Bereavement Counselor Supports Healing

Often a hospice patient leaves behind multiple bereaved family members, creating a large caseload of bereaved people in various stages of grief. It is common for the BC to be called into action for services to assist families experiencing complicated pre-bereavement issues, help children deal with the impending death of a loved one or even support hospice staff in their grief journey after losing a patient.

Legacy projects help the patient create a physical legacy for their loved ones. Many BCs create opportunities for recording or writing about life events, beliefs, personal accomplishments and wisdom that the patient wishes to leave behind.

Annual memorial services are occasions organized by the BC that are intended to bring the previous year’s bereaved back together with the hospice team. These events are an opportunity for the families to acknowledge their loss and share memories with the hospice team. Annual memorial services have included a video compilation of photos, music, butterfly releases and a meal. An annual memorial service is often considered the most popular event on the hospice calendar for families and staff.

Please take a moment on National Grief Awareness Day to recognize these individuals. Let’s take them from “unsung heroes” to heroes of great distinction.

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