Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Doctors & Medical Practitioners: Charting Final Thoughts With Condolence


At the funeral home, it is common to receive floral arrangements from businesses. Occasionally, flowers arrive from doctors and medical practices. 

While flowers are thoughtful and appreciated courtesies, can more be expressed to the family of your deceased patients?

Yes, condolences take time--a commodity usually in short supply for medical professionals. But let us assume that you do not regard your patients as "cases." If you have shepherded someone to the passageway called 'death'...

 your charting is incomplete without sympathy.

I asked Michigan internist, Eric J. Lerman, about his practice of condolence to the family of a patient who has died:  

"Sometimes I call, sometimes I write. The content varies depending on the circumstances."

The Condolence Coach frequently mentions being SENSITIVE to survivors. When family members companion a loved one during his or her final weeks, days, and hours, the experience is draining; self-doubt is common.  Dr. Lerman suggests that sensitivity is diagnostic. He applies the Key Comfort "balm" of recognizing and affirming the family:

"Often, I acknowledge the heroic efforts of caregivers and the deceased, in the end of life process/struggles."   

Grief may be like walking in unfamiliar woods. Without a horizon or direct sky view, discerning direction is hard. The traveler longs for guidance.

"When speaking or writing to surviving spouses, I try to prepare them for the grieving process, letting them know that it will not be easy but that it will get better." 

Dr. Lerman prescribes that they "reach out to friends and family for support during the grieving process. I  suggest that their loved one would want them to try to carry on with life."
He may include gentle encouragement: "to try to shift gears from care taking for someone else to trying to take care of themselves."

At the funeral home, I often witness the dazed expression of former caregivers. 

Death has 'stomped on the brake pedal' and they feel a huge void. 

The mission of AfterGiving.com addresses that void, and provides a forum for conversation and support. In one interactive tool called Six Word Stories, the topic of starting over is described:
"You’re beginning again, too, in your life, after caregiving ends. These kind of starts can feel so awful because you feel like you yourself must start over. You must find a new way to fill your day, a new way to relate to others, a new way to spend your time."

Caring, encouragement and sometimes, gentle guidance, are deeply meaningful elements of condolence notes. Taking the time to express them, matters.

To read other posts discussing leadership, professionals and condolence, please see these posts:
Sending Condolence to Clients and Customers
Ithaca College President Reaches Out With Condolence
POTUS Does It & So Should You: Condolence After a Suicide

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