We recently held our memorial service for those families who had lost their loved ones in the last three months. I visited with the daughter of one of our patients. She stayed long after the other families had left, talking with our staff.
She didn’t appear to be overcome with grief—in fact, she looked as if she was coping very well. But as we visited, I realized that she had a lot going on underneath her polished appearance.
Not only had she just lost her mother, her husband had decided to file for divorce while she was coping with her mother’s terminal illness. She was forced to find a job for the first time in many years.
She felt so comfortable sharing her story with me that I assumed her mother had been on service with us for several months. I was surprised to learn that her mother had been with us for only one day before passing away. She had not had several months to get to know our nurses, aides, social workers, and chaplain and slowly welcome us into the framework of her life.
Instead, we entered her life right in the middle of her crisis.
My first thought was regret that her mother’s doctor had not made the hospice referral earlier. This family needed the support we could offer, not just for their dying mother, but also for each family member as they coped with multiple losses.
I was glad, though, that at least the referral was made, and the door opened for us to assist this family for the next year as they continue to cope.
When we discuss hospice, we often focus on the benefits for the patient, but the philosophy of hospice has always been to care for the entire family. Although this particular patient received care for only one day, the family will receive bereavement care for the next 13 months, at no additional cost to the family, their insurance, or Medicare.
Our social workers, therapist, and chaplain will work together to help them live with their loss and not let their grief consume their lives.
Many may think of this type of bereavement service as simply an after-thought to the goal of comforting the hospice patient, but these services are just as important as those provided to the patient. Successful bereavement programs benefit not only those families suffering loss, but all of us.
When the business world sees the "big picture" of grief, I think they will not only call on us in the health care field to provide these services, but they will offer their support in making them happen.
In their 2003 survey, "The Grief Index: The Hidden Annual Costs of Grief in America’s Workplace," the Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation reports an annual cost of grief to business of $75.1 billion. I shared some of their findings with my co-workers, who have worked in the industry for more than 20 years, and even they were surprised.
Through their grief recovery programs, the institute found that 70 percent of participants reported an increased—or new— use of alcohol or mind-altering substances up to six months or more after a major loss.
Ninety percent of their participants reported that their ability to concentrate was reduced in the days, weeks, months, and in some cases, years, following the death of a loved one.
When asked to estimate the amount of lost days they believe were the direct and immediate result of their reduced focus, "50 percent report at least 30 days lost in which their value to the company or business was dramatically reduced, and may well have contained significant negative consequences in the form of poor decision making, poor supervisorial skills, reduced sales ability and increased workplace accidents and injuries."
"Twenty percent reported being affected for substantially longer than 30 days, in many cases as long as one year."
These findings clearly show that grief can be a major force in the business world, affecting not only job performance, but corporate performance.
The need for the expertise of hospice teams in helping families cope with grief will increase not only as baby boomers age, but as our country faces the possibility of going to war. Just as hospices help individuals cope with loss, we can guide communities in coping with change, loss, and grief.
Just as our patient’s daughter reached out for help at our memorial service, we need to encourage those around us to ask for help after a loss, rather than hide their grief and its effects. Whether the loss is the death of a loved one, divorce, or job termination, coping with grief in a healthy way is not only vital for the individual, but for our communities.