Kim Pickett, bereavement coordinator, and Heather Vander Beek, social worker, with hospice at Pella Regional Health Center have comments about their jobs that may not be expected. They don’t say words like sad or depressing. They use words like peace and blessing and honor.
“On television death is portrayed to be so horrible. That’s just not the case,” said Kim. “I make the bereavement calls for hospice and hear so many stories that have the underlying theme of peace.”
As the bereavement coordinator, Kim is the person that assists families with post-death grieving, facilitates support groups, makes bereavement calls, home visits and does individual and family counseling.
“People grieve so differently and at various times. Being available is the most important part of my job,” said Kim.
According to Kim, typically when she calls family members after a recent loss people will say that they are doing fine and keeping busy. Then when she calls back 3-6 months later, people will be more emotional and say they aren’t sure why they are crying. She explains that grief is very individualized; maybe there was another death, or a special date is coming up-anything can trigger grief. She also shares that men and women tend to grieve differently.
Heather shares that she was worried about being a social worker for hospice at first. She wasn’t sure that she could handle it. She was surprised to realize that the role wasn’t that different from the other social work roles she’s had and that it’s not depressing.
“It can be sad and it can be physically and mentally exhausting at times,” said Heather. “But it’s a blessing that we can go in at that time of life; it’s a sacred time.”
Heather describes her role as the resource person in hospice. She is a companion to walk alongside the patients and families and listen. She says that many times patients are at peace with dying at the end but family members may continue to struggle. When that happens, Heather helps with their anticipatory grief. She explains that anticipatory grief is when someone is figuring out when the loved one will die, how they will die, what it will feel like. It’s all of the not knowing that increases the anxiety.
“Our goal is to get everyone involved to come to peace with the journey. Going into hospice is a huge decision for people. It takes a while for the patients to trust us. After a few visits we build that trust and things progress from there,” said Heather.
Kim recalls one patient who told her that she couldn’t have done this without hospice. “She told me to thank everyone,” said Kim. “Someone needs to be there for the patients and families; what an honor it is for hospice staff to be a part of the ups and downs of that journey.”