Beyond the Hour of Death

Family Experiences of Grief and Bereavement Following an End-of-Life Hospitalization in the Intensive Care Unit

Published in: Health (2020).doi: 10.1177/1363459320946474

Posted on RAND.org on September 03, 2020

by Julia Bandini

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End-of-life decision-making is an important area of research, and few sociological studies have considered family grief in light of end-of-life decision-making in the hospital. Drawing on in-depth interviews with family members in the intensive care unit (ICU) during an end-of-life hospitalization and into their bereavement period up to six months after the death of the patient, this article examines bereaved family members' experiences of grief by examining three aspects from the end-of-life hospitalization and decision-making in the ICU that informed their subsequent bereavement experiences. First, this article explores how the process of advance care planning (ACP) shaped family experiences of grief, by demonstrating that even prior informal conversations around end-of-life care outside of having an advance directive in the hospital was beneficial for family members both during the hospitalization and afterwards in bereavement. Second, clinicians' compassionate caring for both patients and families through the "little things" or small gestures were important to families during the end-of-life hospitalization and afterwards in bereavement. Third, the transition time in the hospital before the patient's death facilitated family experiences of grief by providing a sense of support and meaning in bereavement. The findings have implications for clinicians who provide end-of-life care by highlighting salient aspects from the hospitalization that may shape family grief following the patient's death. Most importantly, the notion that ACP as a social process may be a "gift" to families during end-of-life decision-making and carry through into bereavement can serve as a motivator to engage patients in ACP.

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