How text messages can help hospices — and all of us — support our grieving loved ones

Now hospices can meet the growing demand for bereavement support with regular tips and reminders delivered via text

Since launching Grief Coach, I’ve been asked time and time again if I find it depressing doing this work. The answer is always, always no.

I don’t find this work depressing — in fact, I’ve never been happier at work than I am today.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some days when the weight and knowledge of people’s losses can feel overwhelming. But the truth is that being in constant contact with the end of life is a powerful way to be in contact with life. And being in contact with life is a lot of fun.

I’m not alone. Many people who work in end-of-life feel this way. Over the last year I’ve had the chance to spend time with Bereavement Managers across North America who work for hospices, hospitals and organ procurement organizations (OPOs).

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never heard of Bereavement Managers … they don’t tend to be people who need or want a high profile. But their work is incredibly important, and full of meaning and joy. Yes, joy. They are passionate about their work, committed to the families they work with, and brimming over with perspective. They know what matters, and what doesn’t.

I’ve also learned that Bereavement Managers are exceptionally good at doing “more with less.” With limited budgets, and a growing number of people who need bereavement support, they’re looking for ways to support as many people as possible, as often as possible, while still ensuring that the support they provide is personal and customized based on each person’s loss.

Hospices are working hard to keep up with the need for bereavement support

US hospices provide deep care and support to patients and their families during the final weeks and months of life, and are also required to provide at least 13 months of bereavement support. But hospice care workers can have upwards of 80 to 100 new cases every month, and with small teams and limited budgets, that volume can be a real challenge.There are all kinds of organizations working hard to meet the escalating need for bereavement support, including hospices, which are themselves growing in number. There were only 31 hospices in the US in 1984, but the numbers have been growing steadily, up to nearly 4,000 today.

“At Sacred Journey Hospice, we had 88 deaths last month,” says Zeena Regis, a Bereavement Coordinator in Georgia, “and that’s about average. Trying to give individual support with that case load can be a challenge.”

Melissa Lunardini, Children’s Bereavement Manager at The Elizabeth Hospice in California, agrees. “Being able to provide good, consistent support is a challenge,” she says, adding that they serve close to 1,000 kids per year through year-round grief support groups, summer camps, and school-based programs. “For kids, one of the most distinguishable factors is that they can grieve heavily throughout their childhood,” Lunardini says. That means programs and supports need to last a long time.

Hospice bereavement programs are wonderful for those who are able to attend, but they are resource-intensive, expensive to deliver, concentrated in certain geographies, and often only last a few days. These programs also tend to focus only on the grieving person, and don’t include the friends and family members who play a critical role in supporting someone after a loss.

Grief support needs to include friends and family too

I believe that the only truly scalable way to support the tens of millions of Americans who experience loss each year is to engage and support the friends and family who want to help, but may not be sure how.

This is why I built Grief Coach for supporters, as well as grievers. Grief Coach is a text-messaging service that delivers personalized content, tips and reminders to people who are grieving, as well as to the friends and family who want to support them. Friends receive regular suggestions and time-based reminders about how they can support their grieving loved ones.

This means that when hospices and other organizations use Grief Coach to send messages to the grieving people in their care, they are also sending messages to the friends and family who support them. Everyone receives messages at least twice a week, all customized based on age, cause of death, relationship to the deceased and much more. Hospices can also send their own messages out to their subscribers, letting families know about an upcoming support group, fundraising event or candlelight vigil, for example.

This focus on supporters, as well as the bereaved, pays dividends for everyone. When a grieving person has even one or two people in their immediate circle who are comfortable supporting them, they’re less likely to experience the anxiety, depression, and lost wages that, sadly, so many bereaved people suffer from.

While we believe that Grief Coach is the first text-based bereavement platform, there are plenty of Bereavement Managers who use text messaging as part of their day-to-day work. They have to, especially if they’re working with younger grievers. “I started texting people because usually after a death, people’s voicemails are full,” Zeena says. “I get more responses via text than if I’d just left a voicemail because it’s low pressure. People can respond without having a full conversation. One of the things I love about Grief Coach is that it’s non-invasive. It lets people know we’re here but it’s not awkward. And it can be customized.”

Zeena, like so many of her colleagues, is committed to doing anything she can to deliver more personalized bereavement support to more people, more frequently. Grief Coach gives them a way to do just that. Hospices can now meet bereavement care needs by delivering personalized text messages at a fraction of the cost of mailers and support groups.

It’s been a humbling experience, spending time with bereavement managers this year, and I’m thrilled that Grief Coach can help them to do their important work. I love watching our text messages go out every day to people across North America, as well as in Europe and Central America. The messages we send, and the feedback we receive, really do bring me joy — bucketloads of it. Like Zeena, Melissa and so many other people who work in grief and loss, I want to help. And when I do, i.t feels great.

Learn more about how Grief Coach works for hospices.

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