Kathleen Gallivan, SNDdeN, PhD, director, Spiritual Care Services Department

Members of the Spiritual Care Services team, from left: Anthony Whittemore, MD, The Rev. Gloria White-Hammond, MD, Kathleen Gallivan, SNDdeN, PhD, and The Rev. John Hudson

Members of the Spiritual Care Services team, from left: Anthony Whittemore, MD, The Rev. Gloria White-Hammond, MD, Kathleen Gallivan, SNDdeN, PhD, and The Rev. John Hudson

When a patient dies at BWH, sometimes family members are present and sometimes they are not. Staff who have spent days, weeks or hours intensely engaged and caring for a patient and their family also may not be physically present at the patient’s end of life.   

Whenever this occurs, the meaningful relationships so often formed between family members and the teams who have cared for them and their loved ones comes to what feels like an abrupt end. Whether the loss is expected or unexpected, family members and teams cope with their grief in individualized ways.

Several years ago, stemming from the desire to honor their patients’ lives—as people and not just patients—nurses in the Neonatal ICU (NICU), and later, nurses in the Medical ICU (MICU), invited families of patients who had died on their units to a service of remembrance in honor of their loved ones.

From the beginning, the planning of these annual services has involved the interprofessional team, including nurses, social workers, chaplains and others. While uniquely individual, the services each include a reading of remembrance, music, a photo slide presentation including the names of all those being remembered and time to write in a remembrance book. A reception follows, allowing families and staff to reconnect.

Today, following in the footsteps of the NICU and MICU, other services including thoracics, the neurosciences, and Palliative Care (in conjunction with DFCI), hold annual or periodic remembrance services.

As we offer the very best care to our patients and their families, we continuously challenge ourselves to explore new ways to support the bereavement process for families; to be authentically present to them and to each other; and to be attentive to the ways loss impacts all those who care for patients at the end of life.