HED:Counselors help familes deal with death

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

There's no hospice care without grief.

Shirley Wood, social worker with North Mississippi Medical Center Home Health Agency's Hospice Program, said the process of dealing with grief often begins when the patient is still alive.

"Helping them come to terms with their grief is very important," Wood said. "They have anticipatory grief."

Patients and families both must deal with anticipatory grief. But the grief that follows death is the realm of those left behind.

"Our services don't stop at the patient's death," said Susan Eftink with Baptist Home Care and Hospice in Oxford. "We continue on for up to 13 months after the point of death, providing counseling to the bereaved."

Eftink said studies show that 30 to 50 percent of people who experience the loss of a loved one have some type of significant mental or physical disability following the loss.

"Bereavement services are supportive, but they're also preventive in nature," Eftink said. "Grief is so painful and people don't expect it to be so painful."

Bereavement services include counseling before and after death, practical help with daily living and referrals to community programs and support groups.

"We spend a lot of our time educating families on the normal experiences and reactions that occur with grief," said Sherri Dulaney, director of NMMC Home Health Agency and Hospice Program. "People often feel sorrow, guilt and anger in the early stages of grief."

Hospice staffs stay in contact with family members through phone calls, cards and bereavement care visits. Area hospice programs also host memorial services that allow local residents the opportunity to share their memories and grief.

NMMC's Hospice Program will conduct a memorial service at 2:30 p.m., Nov. 29 at St. Luke's United Methodist Church. It's open to everyone, not just those who had loved ones in hospice.

For more information about Baptist Home Care and Hospice's annual memorial service, call 1-800-345-6928.

Wood said going to funeral services as well as attending the yearly memorial services are good therapy for hospice workers.

"We have a lot of emotional things going on within ourselves," she said. "You get into the custom of seeing them and when they die, you can't believe it."

Hospice history

The concept of hospice care can be traced back to the fourth century, when it is said that a woman in Rome used her wealth to care for the sick and dying.

Later, the Catholic Church continued the concept through the Middle Ages by offering a place of refuge to the poor and sick.

Dame Cicely Saunders, a British physician, is credited with developing the modern hospice by establishing St. Christopher's Hospice just outside of London in 1967. However, there were references in the 1800s to hospice institutions that cared for the dying.

Saunders and her colleagues identified the need to address the spiritual and psychological needs of the dying person. Those needs were backed up by an American doctor, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who wrote about the end of life in her book, "On Death and Dying."

In that book, Kubler-Ross told the story of dying patients and how they wished to be cared for.

The first hospice in the U.S. was established in New Haven, Conn., in 1974. It was strictly a home care program without the inpatient beds that characterized its model, St. Christopher's Hospice.

Today, almost 3000 hospice programs exist throughout the U.S. caring for approximately 400,000 people.

Source: Hospice Online (

Who to call

To learn more about hospice or to volunteer, contact the following organizations:

- North Mississippi Medical Center Home Health Agency's Hospice Program at 1-800-843-3375

- Baptist Home Care and Hospice in Oxford at 1-800-345-6928

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