How Nurses Can Help The Grieving Patient

How Nurses Can Help The Grieving Patient

Nurses play a really important part in the medical industry. It is the healthcare practitioner or specialist that has to perform a physical examination, request tests, diagnose the patient, and prescribe medication. Yet, the nurse is often the first point of contact the patient has with the facility. Even after seeing the practitioner, the nurse continues to play a supportive part in the patient’s life. When there is a loss, the nurse can also become part of the support framework provided to family members who are grieving.

The Impact Of Grief And Loss

When a patient is in a critical condition and doesn’t make it, their passing can have a significant impact on loved ones. Their partner, parents, children, siblings, and even friends will enter a period of grief. While it is a natural response that we experience as humans, going through a period of grief and loss can take a toll on our lives.

Before we take a look at how nurses can help the loved ones of the patient through this grieving period, we’ll first take a look at how grief can affect them.

Researchers have found that up to 33% of people who are directly affected by grief following a loss experience a detrimental impact on either their mental or physical health. In some cases, both mental and physical health are affected significantly.

The psychological impact of grief is usually the major concern. It’s not uncommon for someone who is grieving to experience symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. This may include consistent sadness, anxiousness, nervousness, and even moments in which the person feels like they are panicking.

In one study, it was found that during the first year of becoming a widow or widower, an estimated 25% of those who suffered a loss develop clinical depression. Depression continues to linger on in 17% of these people after the second year.

In another study, researchers found that 25.9% of people who experience a loss during adulthood experience severe levels of grief. In cases where a loss is experienced during childhood, about 5.2% of people report severe grief.

Many people who grieve also don’t take care of themselves in the same way they usually do. Poor self-care during the grieving period can cause more problems to surface. At this point, it is no longer only mental health that remains a concern but also the physiological well-being of the person.

Symptoms like chest pain and sleeping problems can develop. Some people may have a difficult time falling asleep, with reasons including stress, anxiousness, depression, and sometimes even nightmares. Other people may sleep more than usual when they are going through grief. The combined effects can weaken the immune system, cause inflammatory responses, and even affect blood pressure levels.

How Nurses Can Play A Role In Grieving

There are three important roles that nurses can play when it comes to helping people during this difficult time. When medical facilities are aware of these roles, it’s easier to provide nurses with the training they need to attend to these grieving individuals.

Let’s take a closer look at these three roles:

Emotional Support: When someone is grieving due to the loss of a loved one, it can have a significant impact on their emotional health. Depression can develop, as we have already discussed. They may experience mood changes and find it difficult to cope. The nurse can become an emotional support system for those individuals going through the difficult time.
Counseling: Depending on the qualifications and skills of the nurse, they may also play a role in providing the patient access to counseling following their loss. Simply being a good listener can already play a big part in helping the patient improve their coping mechanisms and start their road to recovery.
Education: Providing patients with helpful education is another area where the nurse plays a role. Patients may not know how they can cope with the feelings they have when they are grieving the loss of a loved one. This includes details on coping mechanisms that the patient can adopt. The nurse can also educate the patient on how they can take care of their emotional, spiritual, and physical health during this period.

Nurses do need to keep in mind that every person has their own way of coping with loss and grief. Thus, while it is important for the nurse to provide support and counseling, they should still allow the individual to use their own coping mechanisms to get through this time.

Apart from providing support to the patient, there is another important topic that we should touch on at this point. Nurses sometimes take care of patients in the hospital for a long time. They start to know these patients and build a professional relationship with them. Thus, it’s not unlikely for nurses to also experience some feelings of grief when one of their patients

Thus, nurses need to comprehend the basic fundamentals that are involved in grief, loss and the impact that these experiences can have on a person. They need to ensure they do not only focus on the family but also consider ways that a loss, even if it is not related to a loved one, can affect them in the clinical setting too.


Grief can have a serious physical and psychological impact on a person. Nurses can help to ease the process for those who have suffered a loss in the medical setting. From providing counseling to helping people understand the importance of continued self-care and offering referrals to appropriate healthcare professionals, nurses can make it easier for these people to cope with what they are going through. It’s not going to take away the pain, but it can still bring the person comfort.


C.M. Parkes. Bereavement in adult life. The BMJ.

J.C. Thimm, A.E. Kristoffersen, U. Ringberg. The prevalence of severe grief reactions after bereavement and their associations with mental health, physical health, and health service utilization: a population-based study. European Journal of Psychotruamatology. Published 2020.


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