The Importance of language and sensitive communication

By Sarah Mosely – Bereavement Care Consultant

As health professionals we are in a privileged position to be providing bereavement care for families at a devastating and vulnerable time, the care we provide has a long lasting impact on the family. This isn’t said to put extra pressure on health professionals – but instead to allow us to reflect on our practice, our clinical experience and how we can further develop our professional knowledge to offer the best bereavement care we are capable of. 

Within wider society and within healthcare we often worry about saying the wrong thing around death and causing further distress. As humans we often want to find solutions or try to ‘fix’ which unfortunately is not possible or needed when supporting people who are grieving. Saying;

“I’m here to listen and I care”

Is usually well received, taking the time to listen to understand and not always to respond has shaped my own understanding of good bereavement care. 

people woman sitting technology

Communication is one of the simplest but most effective ways in which we can improve the bereavement care we offer and is often highlighted by families as a learning point. Parents tell us that using the term baby or asking if they have named their baby, asking how they’d like us to refer to baby is important to them. Ensuring language is compassionate and informed is vital and avoiding overly medicalised terminology such as referring to ‘the miscarriage’ is unhelpful and detached.  

As caring professionals it can be tempting to use phrases such as ‘passed away’ or ‘gone’ but this may be open for misinterpretation which may cause confusion and further distress. Communication should be unambiguous; such a using the word ‘died’ as there should be no doubt in the families’ mind of what is being communicated. As the subject of death still remains culturally taboo health professionals can help to lead the way in opening up this conversation, after all if we are not comfortable with these discussions how can we expect families and colleagues to be? 

CuddleCot have easily accessible quality e-learning modules covering a range of topics including excellent communication around bereavement care which can be really valuable for continuing professional development.

The clinical led training from CuddleCot can be delivered face to face in a safe non-judgemental environment, to help build professional confidence around bereavement care, if you’d like further information you can contact CuddleCot directly at: info@cuddlecot.com or by visiting cuddlecot.com/training 

Often families will not be aware of options available to them regarding spending time or making memories with their baby. Sensitive discussions can help families truly make informed choices of what is right for them and encourages individualised holistic care. When I first became aware of the grief theory by Silverman and Klass (1996) named ‘Continuing Bonds’ it completely made sense to me both on a professional and a personal level. The continuing bond theory explores that having a connection or tie to the deceased is not only normal but a healthy part of the grieving process. By offering the choice of spending time with baby to make tangible memories, such as bathing, dressing, taking photographs and building a memory box as professionals we can help to facilitate this connection. 

The CuddleCot can be offered as a way to give the gift of time to families and can be used in hospital, a hospice or at home.

As professionals we may be caring for a family through a future pregnancy after bereavement. The decision to have a baby following bereavement is a deeply personal one, it’s important to acknowledge that parents may be feeling a range of emotions including fear, joy, and guilt. These complex emotions can bring a whole new wave of grief to navigate;

“Grief is like the ocean it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Vicki Harrison

body of water under blue and white skies

Taking the time to read through their medical history and being mindful of any icons or stickers which are sometimes used to identify a family who have been bereaved is incredibly important. 

A future pregnancy may hold a lot of triggers for the family such as attending hospital environments, ultrasounds scans or appointments. As parents will be offered additional care this pregnancy, it could be helpful to ask or suggest ways in which their care can be adapted to support their needs.  One suggestion may be anticipating more time needed for appointments for discussions or for questions to be answered.  A Professional Midwifery or Nurse Advocates may also be available to help support families further, for example parents may find it helpful if someone is there to meet them walking into an appointment or scan if they find it distressing. 

people woman sitting technology

Providing bereavement care as previously discussed is a real privilege but can be emotionally challenging for professionals too, being aware of support available within our own teams or trust can be helpful. Further suggestions in caring for ourselves are; being aware of local staff wellbeing support, taking time to reflect through clinical debriefs with colleagues and accessing Professional Midwifery or Nursing Advocates for support.

CuddleCot also provides a free online GriefChat service, where you can chat directly to a specially trained bereavement counsellor Monday-Friday 9am-9pm (except bank holidays). This service is for anyone affected by grief, taking the time to look after ourselves can help us continue to provide excellent bereavement care for others. 

To learn more about our baby and child loss bereavement care study day, or to sign up for our free online eLearning bereavement care modules, visit: cuddlecot.com/training

Reference: Silverman and Klass (1996) Continuing bonds, new understandings of grief 

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