Guiding through grief
There is no greater pain than the loss of a child. But health professionals are in a position to provide open arms and understanding, and to do it very well. Such is the mission of the Perinatal and Pediatric Bereavement Council.
The council is made up of nurses, social workers, chaplains and child-life specialists whose goal is to ensure that all patients and families receive quality and compassionate standardized care at all Advocate sites.
The council was created in 2016 after an Advocate-wide Resolve Through Sharing bereavement training program, in which each Advocate site sent up to 10 people to the sessions, including some who were trained as coordinators for their sites.
The heart and soul of that group is its co-chairs: Danielle Penman, BSN, RN, obstetric bereavement coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, and Kelsey Mora, BA, CCLS, CPMT, a child-life specialist in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge.
Eighteen years as a labor delivery nurse had led Penman into a role as unofficial bereavement counselor in her unit. “So much attention is given—as it should be—to celebrating a baby’s life, but there was always a need for me to take care of families who were going through the loss of a achild. A lot of staff felt uncomfortable with it. I became a champion on our unit. Over time, I’ve just continued to do the work that I’ve done. This is my passion; it’s what I do.”
Penman takes the role solemnly. “What an honor that we, as a care team, are there at that vulnerable time for families,” she added. “We, the strangers, are the ones there supporting these families, and they look to us for guidance and strength.”
The tragic loss of a friend during her teen years is what guided Mora into her calling. “My very good friend died of cancer when I was 16, and I was very close to his dying experience,” Mora said. “That’s what made me want to become a child-life specialist. My motto is making meaningful moments out of difficult moments.”
The council just completed another training in bereavement, Mora said. There was so much staff interest, however, that session attendance had to be capped at 114. The council hopes to continue training for Advocate staff annually, if not more frequently.
“I am always surprised by my the bereavement work with parents who have lost a baby. They are the most gracious, most appreciative families,” says Penman. “We see patients in such raw grief, and we want to always do better”.
That’s what compassion can do.