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Bereavement Support that Lives On

Grieving with Family, an Honor and Privilege

Loretta Mangano, from Constellation’s bereavement team, has worked for many hospices for over 25 years. There’s something special about Constellation. 

People matter. Empathy and compassion matter. Family matters. 

“When I joined this hospice, my director said, ‘I want this to be old-school hospice.’ I knew what he meant immediately. He meant real hospice, as opposed to seeing as many patients as possible without giving them much individual attention. To really be present. He respects our opinion for how we assess what the patient needs. I know their families appreciate that, and our calls and presence. I’m glad to be part of this team.” 

Bereavement Groups and Events that Heal

On Oct. 4, the bereavement team organized a virtual remembrance service in honor of loved ones who have passed away in the past 14 months. Due to the pandemic guidelines, many family members have been unable to visit their loved ones. Funerals have been deferred or canceled, and those who live alone in their homes with grief-filled hearts remain isolated. This service brought people together to reflect, remember, and heal together.

Jan Cowles, the bereavement supervisor, noted that this and other events are open to the public, free of charge. The bereavement team sent out 800 invitations to the virtual service. Bereavement services serve families 13 months after their loved one has passed. Supervisors follow up with phone calls, mailers, and bereavement events where people can find a sense of community and support. For families with a loved one that has a diagnosis of dementia, the team will start services on day one of admission since they may be experiencing the loss of their loved one already.

During the pandemic, the bereavement groups also went virtual. Cowles said they ran three groups over the summer (once a week for 10 weeks) and had great feedback. They have constructed virtual groups like the in-person groups—figuring out ways to show films, do chair yoga, and offer self-care support. “You begin as a stranger and end up as friends,” she said. 

Building Relationships through Grief

The bereavement team’s creative and innovative approach to offering support for bereaved family members and employees makes death more natural, more approachable. From Death Cafes to Tea/Tequila Wednesdays, the team provides an invaluable service in so many ways. 

“You get very connected with these people,” Cowles said. “And you get to know people sometimes better than their friends and family because they are so vulnerable. It is an honor and a privilege.”

Mangano reflected that sentiment: “Grief comes from the Latin word gravis, which means ‘heavy’ because there’s a heaviness to grief. When I start a bereavement group, and everyone shares their story, there’s a heaviness because they are all deeply mourning someone they love. As we share, honor, and support each other, I feel like it’s a sacred time. When I get invited into an intimate time of life, yes, it is heavy, and yes, it’s intense, but yes, it’s a sacred time. There’s an intimacy and sacredness to it.” 

Outreach is Everything

Constellation’s bereavement difference is not only the length of follow up with the bereaved but the compassionate care given throughout the process. 

“Honestly, we often go above and beyond,” Mangano said. “It is required that when someone dies that the chaplain makes a 72-hour condolence call. We give families time to do preparations, then I follow up with the one month call, and I decide if they need extra support or visits. What I have found when I make that call, is they will often say, that ‘the nurse called me, the social worker called me, the chaplain called me,’ and they felt so comforted by the outreach they have from our team. Having just gone through the loss of my own mother in a hospice in Arizona, my sister got one text from the nurse, and that was it. Our team is constantly so present, and maybe that’s going above and beyond, or them just being them.”

Margarita Lorenz, another member of the bereavement team, told a story about being present and tuning into what the bereaved need. “I had an interesting situation involving a woman who lost her daughter to COVID-19 in a facility. She was not able to cry over this loss and it bothered her a great deal. She explained that she was always a strong person and helped her family so it was hard for her to open up.”

The bereavement team had sent her a book, “When Someone You Love Dies.” 

“But I sensed she needed something extra,” Lorenz continued. “I enclosed a Japanese paper lantern full of bright colors. I explained to her that that light represented the light her daughter brought into the world for her. She told me she put the lantern above her bed that night, and when she turned it on and opened her book, she began to cry. She is now able to release her emotions.”

In many ways, the team feels empathy for grief-stricken family members who don’t get the type of support Constellation offers. 

“I get calls from friends and family,” Mangano said. “When someone has lost somebody, they call me and say, ‘What can I do for support?’ I tell them to call the hospice and see if there is a bereavement person, and often there is. But there was no outreach to them. Had I not told them to call, they might not have known that. One of the most important things with bereavement is that outreach.” 

The following “thank you” note from a family member who lost a loved one confirms that … 

Outreach matters. 

“I just wanted to reach out to you and let you know that your periodic letters and newsletters are so kind and caring. It is so nice to feel like someone remembers her, and us, so long after she has passed. What a wonderful service you provide to the families left behind. I think of this every time I open a note from you, and I wanted to let you know that I really appreciate your kindness.”

A Mission to Make Death Feel Natural 

Mangano said that her mission is to help people see death as natural. 

“There’s a saying by Alan Wolfelt, ‘Grief is as natural as the setting of the sun and as elemental as gravity.’ If there’s anything I’d like to help society with is that grief is natural. There’s another saying, ‘To avoid grief, we must lose our memories or cease to love.’ When I tell that to the bereaved, they say, ‘Nah, I don’t want to do either, so I’d rather have my grief.’ The grief becomes something that’s honoring versus something burdensome.”

She explained how families often describe their emotions as “falling apart.” She tells them that’s grief, and it’s natural. We shouldn’t feel embarrassed or diminished for those feelings. 

“You aren’t doing better when you are not crying and worse when you are,” she said.  

“The most important thing for me as bereavement support,” she continued, “is to be comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. I always tell our team, It’s not our goal to fix, heal, or cure the bereaved. It’s to honor, witness, and validate their grief and figure out how to mourn in the process.” 

‘Thanks for Being’

“At the end of one of my groups, this wonderful woman took my hand and said, ‘Thanks for being,’” Mangano said. “That was probably the biggest honor and compliment I’ve ever received. Now, as a team, we always say to each other, ‘Thanks for being,’ and I’m really thrilled and blessed to be part of such a wonderful group of people at Constellation.” 

To our Constellation team, to those we care for, to those who have passed … 

Thanks for Being. 

___________

Constellation’s Complete Care at Home approach takes patients through the care continuum utilizing human connection and technology to provide the best patient care. For hospice patients and their families, that means from intake to bereavement services 13 months after death. We are there throughout that journey. Constellation is a family-owned, family-centered organization that has remained true to our commitment to providing the best patient experience and the highest quality outcomes. We believe this is accomplished by ensuring that everyone we connect with feels valued, trusted, and heard. Learn how we can help you. 

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