What NOT to say

Nurses General Nursing


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20,964 Posts

Specializes in Specializes in L/D, newborn, GYN, LTC, Dialysis.

Cyberkat---- a very insightful response, thankyou so much. You speak from very personal and recent experience, I realize.

I agree with those saying to "go with it". Death is a very personal and variable experience for us all. I, for one, would have appreciated SOME acknowledgement of my pregnancy losses from my nurses and doctors when I had my ectopic and miscarriages. They treated me as a surgical case, no more, except in ONE case (I will get back to that). I realize these deaths are different than losing a child, spouse, parent, but no less real to me. So many minimized this for me, and it was insulting. My roommate was more sensitive and helpful than the nursing and medical staff were in my 1st case, an ectopic loss. (HIPAA be damned lol).

Sometimes, not knowing what to say leads people to say NOTHING at all, just ignoring the situation, leaving us feel isolated and weird, as well as totally and completely alone. At least say you are "sorry" and mean it, that would be a start. The rest, follow the lead of your patient.

Now in one situation I referred to, a very sharp LPN noticed my grief and asked me what she could do to help me. Could she call a chaplain, or family minister? FINALLY someone acknowledged the horrible feeling I had inside. She saw beyond the complicated and disturbing surgical case they were dealing with. She did not ofter to "fix it all" or pretend to know how I felt--- she just reached out the only way she could. And I can't tell you what that meant to me. The feeling of utter isolation and being alone was minimized for a while there, and it meant more than I could say.

I think we nurses (and doctors and others in medical care) could do with a lot more grief awareness/coping training. I think as a society, we here in the USA are still SO uncomfortable with discussing death and dying. Heck, some of us cannot bring ourselves to say someone "died"---we use euphemisms such as "passed on to his reward" or "expired". WHATEVER, it's still a death, and all that goes with it. It's high time we broke out of our fear of discussing a sensitive subject and just talked about it. Talking about it reduces the horrible sense of isolation many of us feel when a loved one dies. If we talked about it more---honest dialogue would ensue and a HECK of a lot more of us would know HOW to behave--- what questions to ask, and what to say when someone loses a loved one.

That, of course, is only my opinion. Just remember, there are NO fast and hard rules about what to say or what not to say. You,unfortunately, cannot rely on any list to keep you on the right side of things. Every one of us is different and has differing needs at such difficult times. Just PLEASE at LEAST, say you are sorry and ask how you can HELP; that is a START! Take your cues from there.

Specializes in Pediatrics.

i try to stay away from religious references (god, heaven, praying) unless i truly know if they believe in these things. i can't imagine anyone saying "don't cry". but i've had personal experience, after losing my brother (i was 20), people telling me to be strong for my parents (as if the loss meant more to them). i soak it up to people not knowing what to say. it is very awkward. what's more awkward in my opinion is after the dust settles. when you see them a week, a month or later. i feel like "how are you holding up" sounds so fragile. you have to really know the person, and whether or not they are going to admit how they really feel.

what's wrong with "do you want to talk?"

leslie :-D

11,191 Posts

Everyone is different, everyone has different needs. It helps if you can get a feel for what each person needs at the time. Some do want to talk, some do want to pray. Some do want to know that they are not alone. I know it's not easy, but just try to get a sense of what the family needs at the time.

and in the absence of anxiety, people who exercise sensitivity WILL get a sense of what a family or individual needs. unfortunately, too many people still are uncomfortable talking about death as it reminds them of their own mortality.

and the bereaved are going to have a myriad of emotions from one hour to the next. one moment they may want to talk; the next moment they may feel intruded upon when something is said. there is nothing predictable about losing a loved one.

so yes kat, getting a sense of what the family needs at the time, whether it be that moment, hour, day...will be of immeasurable help.

erslave, everything applies to you also, even though i'm addressing kat...

with peace,



121 Posts

However, I do agree that typically the nurse is not there to act as a grief counselor. IMHO you should offer to do whatever they'd like you to do (eg. get a box of tissues) then excuse yourself from their presence.

I know that in our BSN program we are taught to take care of a patient and any family holisticly. If that patient has died we are instructed to provide within reason whatever we can. I n some cases that is support or even as simple as coffee. As a student I have already been to one viewing because I was directly involved with that patients care during his death. As a student having only one patient we are given the opportunity to provide one on one care and that makes it easier to form a bond with our patient and their family. But to dispute what you said... we are told to provide grief counseling or at least referrals if warranted.

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