Providing care to bereaved family members and carers

Death can still be seen as sudden by families and carers, even if the patient has been sick for some time. Health professionals can support families and carers by providing appropriate grief and bereavement care and identifying services for further support if needed.

Supporting grief and bereavement

Families and carers response to the patient’s death can vary in nature, as grief will be unique to each person.

The bereavement process refers to coping with grief and has been described as the entire period of anticipation, death and subsequent adjustment to living, following the death of a significant other. [1]

Preparing families for death may reduce bereavement stress. Health professionals can help by recognising the family and their knowledge of the patient and holding family meetings to share information. [2]

Bereavement support will vary depending on the care context and organisational support. Some of the ways in which clinical and non-clinical staff might be involved in bereavement support include:

Online helplines for grief and bereavement support

  • Establishing a support group for bereaved parents
  • Providing ongoing help and support from hospital staff
  • Referring to specialist palliative care support services
  • Referring to professional counselling services, such as a social worker
  • Referring to pastoral care for spiritual and emotional support
  • Offering the family an opportunity to view the body
  • Supporting bereaved families to access community bereavement services
  • Organising follow-up appointments.

Palliative Care Australia (PCA) and the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement (ACGB) explain the relationship between grief and bereavement, and the role of health professionals.

The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne website has information on grief from the parent, sibling, and grandparent viewpoint and provide practical advice on the care that health professionals can provide.

Resources for patients

Providing families with resources and education to help them deal with grief and bereavement is part of the health professional role. Knowing where to find reliable resources is important.

  • Willed have a complete guide to grief counselling and bereavement services in Australia. The list of National and State services can help families and carers, who are experiencing grief, cope with the loss.
  • CareSearch Bereavement, grief and loss section has a range of information and resources developed for community members including information sheets and tips on what might help.
  • Grief Australia has a range of Grief Information Sheets.

Professional boundaries

If providing bereavement support is out of scope for a health professional then referral to those with the skills and competencies required is important.

The Department of Health and Aged Care have defined a set of 11 standards for professionals working in inpatient, acute and consultancy services. Details on each of the standards and factors to consider when implementing the standards at different points in the bereavement trajectory are described.

Nurses within acute care hospitals are in the unique position to support the needs of the suddenly bereaved, providing psychosocial support to families, and arranging referral to interdisciplinary services during end-of-life care. [3]


Self-care is important, as looking after your well-being will help maintain your ability to care for others. Reaching out to colleagues for support can be beneficial. There are also the following services:

  • Head to Health can help you find free low cost, trusted online and phone, mental health resources.
  • Beyond Blue provides access to trained mental health professionals who will listen, provide information, advice and counselling, and point you in the right direction so that you can seek further support. Ph. 1300 22 4636
  • DRS4DRS offer a health advisory and referral service to promote the health and wellbeing of doctors and medical students.
  • Nurse & Midwife Support provides nurses and midwives, nursing and midwifery students, employers, educators and concerned family and friends with support for self-care.

  1. Institute of Medicine. When Children Die: Improving Palliative and End-of-Life Care for Children and Their Families [Internet]. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2003. Appendix E, Bereavement Experiences after the Death of a Child. [cited 2022 Nov 22].
  2. Rawlings D, Devery K, Tieman J, Tait P, Chakraborty A. Rapid review of the literature on end-of life care. Sydney: ACSQHC; 2021.
  3. Raymond A, Lee SF, Bloomer MJ. Understanding the bereavement care roles of nurses within acute care: a systematic review. J Clin Nurs. 2017 Jul;26(13-14):1787-1800. doi: 10.1111/jocn.13503. Epub 2017 Mar 27.

Last updated 22 November 2022