During COVID-19, VITAS Understands & Supports Those Grieving a Sudden Loss
By Robby Bolden, MDiv
For many people, dying is a time of turning inward, of drawing near to those who matter most and sharing deeply meaningful, human moments. On both sides of the bed, the mood may oscillate between deep loneliness and the most profound sense of connection—with self, with those present, with something greater. Depending on the dying person’s condition and state of awareness, the dying process might involve conversation, memories, laughter, or tears. Often, there is simply silence.
No matter how death manifests, the hours and days before a person takes that final breath can be of great importance to their loved ones, providing a path to closure as grief sets in. Now, COVID-19 prevents many patients and their families from sharing those moments.
“Being present” is essence of grief support At VITAS® Healthcare, we understand the significance of being present at the bedside of a dying loved one. As the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care, it is literally our business to do so. Just as COVID-19 changes the dying experience for our patients and families, it also changes how we care for them and support the living after the deceased are gone.
In less tumultuous times, I would often be present with the hospice chaplain and nurse as a family said goodbye to their loved one. I would offer whatever I could in that moment—a hug, a few words, a shoulder to cry on—to lessen the emotional blow of death.
However, as a bereavement manager, death merely marks the beginning of my primary responsibility, which is to support the patient’s loved ones for the next year or more as they work through the complex process of grief. My typical tools for the job—namely in-person volunteer visits, personal check-ins, and an array of support groups—had to be reimagined.
VITAS has developed solutions to improve families’ access to patients before death and to surviving loved ones after the death. Videoconferencing makes it easy for a patient and family to talk face-to-face. It also allows my team and me to check in regularly and address anticipatory grief. If requested, I can even be “present” with a family via video as their loved one dies.
Telehealth, online opportunities emerge Once a patient has passed, telehealth offers ample opportunity for continued check-ins or supportive conversations whenever a family needs it. VITAS grief support groups have gone virtual, allowing participants to join wherever they have phone or web access to meet with similarly grieving individuals across the nation. Our bereavement specialists are trained and ready to address the emotional distress that comes from lack of physical access to loved ones.
In addition to bereavement care, VITAS is leveraging our mobility-first platform and telehealth services to enable seamless care coordination among VITAS teams, caregivers, and facility staff. Hospice eligibility assessments, goals-of-care conversations, and advance care planning can all be conducted via videoconference. Social workers and chaplains can use telehealth to provide 24/7 psychosocial and spiritual support to patients and their families.
New avenues for grief support These substitutes are as necessary as they are imperfect. Nothing can replace a loving touch, a gently held hand, or a hug. But during COVID-19, we cannot let perfection be the enemy of goodness. We owe it to ourselves to care for ourselves as we support each other, by whatever means we can.
At VITAS, we are proud to care for those who need us most, when they need us most. Death never changes, but the circumstances under which we face it are constantly evolving. With new tools and new rituals, we will adapt and overcome. There’s nothing more human than that.
About the author
Chaplain Robby Bolden is bereavement manager for VITAS® Healthcare in the Treasure Coast. His passion is to help people achieve peace with God and others through grief counseling. Serving patients and families throughout Martin, Okeechobee, and St. Lucie counties since 2019, VITAS is the nation’s leading provider of hospice and palliative care.
VITAS Healthcare is the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care.
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