Hospices are known for and highly value collaboration. A key concept in their work is the continuum of care which, by definition, encourages cooperation and collaboration with those serving their patients to ensure reaching a common goal: compassionately helping patients and their families cope with death and loss. Connected to this is the belief in team work. Hospice emphasizes the role of their interdisciplinary team approach to care, where all members of the team are valued equally and considered to have significant roles to play in ensuring the quality of the patient and family experience. The interdisciplinary team approach to care does not need to be confined to members of the hospice organization only but can—and should—include others in the patients’ and families’ community who are impacted. This is where fit and opportunity exist to work collaboratively with funeral directors.
More than most other professionals, it is hospice professionals who pride themselves on and encourage discussion with families about end-of-life care, which, in many cases, include conversations about planning for when death occurs. Because of the often long-standing relationship hospice providers develop with patients and families, they become trusted advocates and advisors whom families respect and come to rely on for guidance. Even though the relationship may be short given the nature of the circumstances (entering a family’s life at a time of emotional crisis and vulnerability), this reliance on the support and guidance which hospice can provide can be significant. Families are often confused, stressed, emotionally fragile, perhaps conflicted amongst themselves about how to proceed, and usually overwhelmed by all that is happening and all that needs to be decided upon. This is where and why the expertise of the hospice team can become so important. Patients and families will often listen to the hospice professionals more than to others because the hospice professionals come with compassion, can mediate conflict, offer a calming influence, and provide tools and information which can alleviate stress and offer direction.
As would seem apparent, this is an opening for hospice professionals to provide tools and information about funeral homes, funeral options, costs, services, etc. Hospice providers are passionate about their work and if they can collaborate with others whom they believe are operating in the best interests of the patient and family, they will welcome the relationship. Part of this passion extends to attempts which go “above and beyond” in the care offered to families. The motivation for this is based on a sincere desire to have the patient and family be surrounded by caring and skilled professionals whose goal is to ease the burden of this difficult journey. When the care provided has exceeded expectations, the word-of-mouth sharing of the experience offers the potential for valuable opportunities.
Sometimes what we do can be quite simple. Yet, to the family, it can be more than what they had hoped for or expected. This can be as simple as meeting the family—who is already consumed by caregiving responsibilities—at an hour reasonable to them, at their home, or being willing to accommodate unusual or unique funeral requests. Some ways in which hospice and funeral homes can collaborate to go above and beyond may include:
- Working together to create a funeral which meets the family’s wishes when funds are limited
- Working together to explore funding options when funds are limited
- Collaborating on an aftercare program
- Co-hosting community educational events on topics such as grief and loss, coping through the holidays, pre-planning a funeral, etc.
- Co-hosting educational events for community leaders or other professionals on grief and loss, end-of-life care, pre-planning a funeral, etc.
- Co-hosting memorial services with a special focus on a specific date or client population (such as veterans, holidays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, loss of a young child, loss due to suicide or drug overdose, etc.)
- Sharing links and resources on each other’s websites
- Meeting occasionally to better learn each other’s roles, how to support each other, and collaborate successfully. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a renowned grief counselor, author, and speaker has said, “Education starts with understanding the people we serve.” These meetings, therefore, can be used to discuss community needs, service gaps, and trends. Hospice professionals and funeral providers can work creatively to meet evolving community needs.
There is little question that collaborative opportunities exist. Taking advantage of these opportunities enables you to develop an open, trusting professional relationship with funeral providers. This promotes a more seamless service delivery system and ensures that the family will experience the highest caliber of service excellence. In doing so, you may make the end-of-life journey a little less painful.
Wolfelt, A. (n.d.). Center for Loss & Life Transition (http://www.centerforloss.com/about-the-center-for-loss/about-dr-alan-wolfelt/)