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ICU Family Member's Experience With Bereavement: A Qualitative Approach



Objective: To describe family members’ experiences with bereavement 13 months after the death of a family member in an adult ICU.

Definition: Bereavement is an undefined time period after the death of a loved one, when family members or friends may experience grief and mourn the loss of the deceased. In varying degrees this may include physical, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual / religious experiences for the family member. For some people this period can be stressful and cause distressing symptoms. Design: An exploratory, descriptive analysis using semi-structured interviews.

Setting: Interviews were conducted over the telephone. Handwritten responses were received by mail.

Participants: 17 family members of 17 deceased ICU patients from two ICUs in a tertiary medical center in the Western United States represent the sample for this study.

Methods and Results: A qualitative, descriptive technique was used for data analysis. Two independent raters coded transcripts of audiotaped interviews, handwritten responses to open- ended survey questions and one unsolicited letter in order to assess family members’ experiences with bereavement support provided by the ICU. Comments from family members were categorized into themes focusing on ICU family bereavement experiences. Three main themes emerged and consisted of: 1) bereavement as a unique experience for each family member, 2) situations occurring during the ICU encounter remained significant for family members beyond a year after the death, and 3) social, cultural and spiritual events after the death hold importance for ICU family members over time.

Conclusions: Bereavement is a notable experience for family members of deceased ICU patients. The themes identified in this study add insight into the experiences of these surviving family


v members. The results of this study may guide future clinical interventions to help support

bereaved ICU family members.

Keywords: ICU, family bereavement, bereavement intervention, qualitative study.

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