Faith Hospice is continuing to use a virtual platform to provide bereavement services to families who are grieving the loss of a loved one after the pandemic forced its support groups to meet families where they were, both physically and emotionally.
The organization used Zoom for the first time last year to help hospice families and the community cope with their grief.
Faith Hospice has a 13-month bereavement process and since families weren’t able to visit its location for the services, the organization increased the number of day and evening support groups that specialize in different types of grief, such as the loss of a spouse, parent or friend, to 25 and took to the virtual platform to support them.
Although the support groups weren’t physically able to console families as they grieved, Janet Jaymin, bereavement manager for Faith Hospice, said they were still able to form a personal connection and comfort them as they corresponded.
“You can still see someone’s facial expression,” she said. “People still cry, and you can still feel that, and it becomes personal. You are building trust through Zoom the same way you would if you met in person. Sure, it is a different platform, but it has worked. It really has worked. I can’t always see their body language, and I’ll be honest about that because it does help the clinicians to see someone’s body language, so we have to rely on their facial expressions and their eyes. I have to be really in tune to that individual and what they are saying, but on the flip side of it, I have seen that some people are much more vulnerable and open on Zoom and being in their own home.”
Tammy Sue Veldkamp, executive director for Faith Hospice, said Zoom also gave caregivers the opportunity to still keep in contact with families who live out of state.
“Janet was able to reach people who were across the country,” she said. “Snowbirds who went to Florida or just families who weren’t present, she was able to then virtually connect with them and support them, where before when it was all in-person we would have had to try to connect them to a local hospice.”
“Currently, I have a Zoom support group where I actually have someone from Florida in the group, someone from Arizona in the group and someone from Texas in the group, and like Tammy said, in the past we would have never been able to do that and now we can,” Jaymin said. “So, what is so exciting is that we can have a son or daughter who have a parent who lived in Grand Rapids, and they live out of state, and instead of connecting them to a hospice within the state they live in, they can still stay connected with our service.”
Faith Hospice was able to help and support 1,500 hospice families last year. Jaymin said 90% of their mourning families who wanted to be a part of a support group became a part of one.
“What was interesting and exciting too was that we had folks who were in their 80s who would tell me, ‘Janet, I am not going to do this technology. I cannot do this. I don’t like it.’ And I would say, ‘We could help you,’ so we would teach them how to get it all set up and it was really beautiful because we have all ages in our support group and we had these people who said they will not be able to use this technology in our groups.”
Although the country is returning to some normalcy, Jaymin said Faith will continue to use the virtual platform because of the opportunity it provides to reach families across the country and its popularity with families, in tandem with its in-person bereavement services.
Faith Hospice’s bereavement process following the death of a loved one includes continuous follow-up phone calls, counseling services, educational materials on specific topics such as the grief process, understanding grief within the family, coping with grief and self-care.
Some of the in-person services Faith Hospice offers grieving families include social support groups such as coffee and conversation and book clubs that are grief-related, annual coping with the holidays tips and groups, bereavement counseling, an annual butterfly release in the spring and fall, and two memorial services are provided for hospice families and staff.
“I like folks to remember that Faith Hospice walks alongside individuals, being present with a person’s emotional and often spiritual pain,” Jaymin said. “We do not have a magic wand and we do not ‘fix grief,’ because we can’t. Rather, we offer hope by embracing the bereaved into our hearts and allowing them space to grieve well.
“I lost my wise mother 3 years ago. I am so thankful she provided me with a strong Christian foundation. We experienced many losses, and it was hard. During those difficult times, my mother would often say to me, ‘Where’s your faith?’ And in my work today, I remind myself every day, ‘Yes, grief is hard and in grieving well we must remember God is faithful.”