This maybe the standard saying when you see someone who has lost a loved one. But it’s so cliché. It made me feel better but I doubt it does anything for the person who is still grieving and mourning.

Recently, one of my regular home visit patients has lost his wife unexpectedly. I didn’t know how to react, how to cope and how to be a support for him.

I know she means the world to him. He often refuses to come to clinic because he could not leave his wife alone. Just the way he speaks about her, you know he deeply loves her despite her onset of dementia.

He hasn’t returned my numerous phone calls. Of course, it would be easy for me to postpone the home visit because I couldn’t get a hold of him. But at the back of my mind, I was wondering how he was coping. Is he in denial? Angry? Depressed? Or has he moved into the acceptance phase.

I feel like a coward if I just walk away.

I decided that despite not confirming my home visit appointment, I should still show up.

So I buzzed his door bell and he answered. Then he invited me. He looked just about the same.

Then I said, “I am so sorry for your loss”. He sighed for a moment and then pointed to the urn sitting in front of us, holding his wife’s ashes. “There’s my wife now.”, he responded.

I moved on to do what I needed to do.

Then I spent few moments sitting there to decide what I should do next. He then opened up and said he was slowly moving on, telling me it hasn’t been easy and also very painful. But he also talked about the happy memories he had with his wife, how they met and what they did on the first date.

I just listened, nodded and acknowledged anything and everything that he had to share with me. But that’s it. We moved on to decide when I should schedule my next home visit.

Honestly, I was feeling very nervous going into his home. But I felt relieved that he was ok and I didn’t behave like a loser in the situation.

I don’t remember learning how to respond or support a grieving patient in pharmacy school. But if I am truly sorry, I should not start with such a useless phrase. I should start with being present. Sometimes, I should say nothing. Other times, I should say what I feel is the best thing at the time. At times, it may be appropriate to laugh, cry and listen to this grieving person.

The least I could do is to be present and to be authentic.

How do you deal with or support your grieving patients?

Below are some useful articles that I have found:

Supporting patients who are bereaved
Coping with patient death
Supporting Grieving Families: tips for RNs and others on the front line

Thanks for reading again.