Phone follow up to families of COVID‐19 patients who died at the hospital: families' grief reactions and clinical psychologists' roles

Julia Paola Menichetti Delor, Lidia Borghi, Eugenia Cao di San Marco, Ivan Fossati, Elena Vegni
Published Online:
28 Jan 2021
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 56 Issue 4

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A proportion of persons affected by coronavirus disease‐19 (COVID‐19) die and do so in extraordinary circumstances. This can make grief management extremely challenging for families. The Clinical Psychology unit of an Italian hospital offered a bereavement follow‐up call to such families. This study aimed to explore the families' experiences and needs collected during these calls, and the role that the psychologists played through the call. A total of 246 families were called over 3 months. Multiple qualitative methods included: (i) written reports of the calls with relatives of patients who died at the hospital for COVID‐19; (ii) qualitative semi‐structured interviews with psychologists involved in the calls; (iii) observation of psychologists' peer group discussions. A thematic analysis was conducted. Six themes emerged: without death rituals, solitary, unexpected, unfair, unsafe, coexisting with other stressors. Families' reactions were perceived by psychologists as close to a traumatic grief. Families' needs ranged from finding alternative rituals to giving meaning and expressing different emotions. The psychologists played both a social‐institutional and a psychological‐human role through the calls (e.g., they cured disrupted communication or validated feelings and choices). This study highlighted the potential of traumatic grief of families of COVID‐19 victims, and provided indications for supporting them within the space of a short phone call.

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