Grief, Loss and Bereavement was the thought-provoking topic of the Rennie Grove Hospice Care Annual Conference held on Wednesday 18 October 2017.
In a slight change in emphasis from previous years, this year’s well attended conference allowed Rennie Grove to bring together representatives from established organisations offering bereavement support to learn about new initiatives and to share different perspectives on the issues surrounding grief, loss and bereavement.
Dr Adrian Tookman, national Clinical Director for Marie Curie opened the conference by observing that end-of-life care has become more complex with people living for longer, often with multi-morbidities including conditions other than cancer. More protracted and complicated end-of-life experiences can also mean that bereavement experiences are more challenging.
Cathy Sosoli from St Catherine’s Hospice emphasised that it is vital for healthcare professionals to encourage patients and their families to talk about death and dying. Talking about it with loved ones before they die helps people through the grief process and avoids uncertainty about final wishes. Cathy also described the range of reactions and sensations involved in grief and the importance of understanding, respecting and normalising these before going on to outline some of the main theoretical perspectives on grief, loss and bereavement.
Dr Katherine Bristowe from King’s College London spoke about her research into the bereavement experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. She observed that historical experiences of discrimination are being carried forward by people which can create inequalities in terms of access to hospices and other care and support. She spoke of the need for hospices and other organisations to be inclusive in their publicity and marketing materials to encourage the LGBT community to engage more freely and outlined her 10 recommendations for helping to improve care for LGBT people. Dr Steve Marshall, Palliative Care Social Worker at King’s College Hospital shared some of his experiences of the problems faced by the LGBT community, including an enlightening case study about the difficulties faced by a man who was still biologically female being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. He encouraged practitioners to use their skills to offer sensitive support.
Victoria Lyons, a Senior Consultant Admiral Nurse with Dementia UK stressed that grief and bereavement occur throughout the whole dementia journey, not just at the point of death and highlighted the importance of advance care planning.Leslie Worrall, a Psychotherapist and Supervisor also spoke about the effect of suicide on grief, loss and bereavement and the challenges for practitioners when a client carries out suicide.
Linda Magistris, founder of The Good Grief Trust shared her experiences of grief after her partner Graham died from cancer which inspired her to set up this new organisation to bring together in one website details of the different kinds of support available. Robin Radley from Cruse Bereavement Care outlined the aim of the organisation to “walk alongside” people as they adjust to life without the dead person and Alison Penny from the National Bereavement Alliance described its work on bringing people and organisations together to improve policy and practice surrounding bereavement.
Rosaleen Cowie, the Buckinghamshire lead for Child Bereavement UK, outlined their work with bereaved children and adults together with the support they provide in schools. While Doreen Beattie, a volunteer at Rennie Grove Hospice Care observed that grief and loss start long before death for patients and families and that the implications of mortality become reality as health declines.
The final session of the day was led by Jane Harris. Jane explained how her own experience of bereavement when her son Josh was killed in a road accident in Vietnam at the age of 22 had led her and her partner Jimmy to find creative outlets for their grief. They have now started their own charity, The Good Grief Project, to encourage others to express their grief in creative ways including making films, photography, creative writing and mindfulness.
Jo Clarke, Head of Education at Rennie Grove said, “This year our annual conference took a step away from our traditional palliative care approach and instead focussed on loss, grief and bereavement. Patients, families and professional care givers are all affected by loss, grief, and bereavement in different ways and each will develop their own coping skills. Grief is experienced within the context of the individual’s cultural norms, belief systems, faith systems, and life experiences, and affects survivors physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually.
“Our conference attracted an audience of 115 people who found the day thought-provoking and evaluated highly the calibre of the speakers on the day.”